Penn State trustees postpone meeting expected to announce next president

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Maybe a top university leader turned down the job.

Or, perhaps a last-minute problem arose with a candidacy.

Then again, there may be some other reason why Penn State University trustees -- dogged by criticism for their handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal -- scheduled then postponed "indefinitely" a special meeting for Friday that was to culminate the university's nearly year-long search for a new president.

A statement issued by Penn State about 1 p.m. Wednesday did little to calm speculation:

"The previously publicized public meeting of the Penn State board of trustees on Friday Nov. 1 to discuss a personnel decision has been postponed indefinitely to allow for further consideration.

"Also cancelled is the board's Thursday evening executive session. The board will meet in executive session on Friday Nov. 1. This meeting is not open to the public."

Penn State leaders have said they hoped to name a president by November.

Individuals on and off the board who spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week said the meeting's purpose was to do just that, and university spokeswoman Lisa Powers acknowledged nearly as much Wednesday, saying: "Pretty much the only personnel matter the board deals with is related to the president."

In fact, one candidate was expected on the University Park campus Friday in time for the expected public meeting and vote.

"I have no information on a finalist(s) or where the process is at this point or if a name was being put forward. I only know that the board has slowed the process for more thoughtful and careful deliberation," Ms. Powers said via email.

Since the search's start, officials have been mum about potential candidates, citing a need for confidentiality.

But as word of the planned meeting spread late Tuesday, speculation about possible candidates by those following the search ranged from NCAA president Mark Emmert -- surely a controversial choice given the organization's sanctions against Penn State -- to perhaps a woman, ending a string of male presidencies at the state's flagship public university.

For part of Wednesday, one female university leader in particular was a focus of speculation by alumni and others. However, those expecting Penn State's next president to be Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State System of New York, better think again, officials of that system said.

"Chancellor Zimpher is not and has never been a candidate. She is fully committed to SUNY and the State of New York," said SUNY spokesman David Doyle.

Keith Masser, chair of Penn State's board, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday about the search and aborted meeting. Through a spokesman, former trustee chairwoman and current head of the Presidential Selection Council Karen Peetz referred questions to the university.

"It's just another case of ready, shoot, aim," said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a group of alumni and others long out for the board's removal over such matters as the firing of famed football coach Joe Paterno as the Sandusky scandal broke and later acceptance of NCAA sanctions including a $60 million fine and bowl ban.

Whomever becomes leader of the 96,000-student university will succeed Rodney Erickson, introduced in November 2011 as Penn State's replacement for Graham Spanier, who resigned by mutual agreement as the university faced a barrage of criticism over its handling of the Sandusky case. The soft-spoken and well-regarded provost had planned to retire. Instead, he became the face of efforts to reform the state's flagship public university, mend fences with state legislators and others and help repair a badly tarnished public image.

Bill Schackner: First Published October 30, 2013 1:20 PM

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