Penn State University should rethink any intent to use a newly created compensation committee to award in secret pay packages to top campus leaders, two state officials and a government watchdog group said Monday.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he found it hard to understand how a public university facing so much scrutiny of late over disclosure would do anything other than release immediately what it pays its top leaders.
"It's stuff like this that drives more and more people to support the school being brought fully under Right to Know," he said. "I am stunned."
A top aide to state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County, expressed similar displeasure and said it is partly why a "confidence gap" exists with the school trustees leadership.
"When you receive multi-millions in state dollars, taxpayers have a right to know," said Tor Michaels, chief of staff for the lawmaker whose bill would bring Penn State and other state-related universities fully under both the state records and state ethics laws. "They're the flagship public university. They should lead by example."
Both officials were reacting to comments Friday after Penn State trustees voted to create a compensation committee to set pay policies as well as actual salary and incentives for the school's president and top deputies.
University officials suggested the new panel will not set pay by public vote. Penn State also declined to say if all compensation the panel approves would be treated as public information, as would be required of an institution fully covered by Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law.
Trustee Keith Eckel, whose committee on governance recommended the new panel, suggested Friday that only policies will be set in public and that it would go no further in disclosing pay than dictated by the Sunshine Law.
"I've got to think about what Sunshine requires," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "When it is a personnel matter, Sunshine doesn't cover that. But if it's not a personnel matter and it's anything with philosophy, then it will be in the public session."
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers had no immediate comment Monday on comments by either state official. On Friday, she said the panel will set pay for the president and 17 other executives.
Unlike schools covered by the Right-to-Know Law, Penn State can withhold pay information for months, and even then must release data on only a tiny fraction of its employees.
Advocates asked why not simply make pay figures public right away.
"If you want to be seen as an institution with a high level of integrity, then you want to show you have nothing to hide," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Pennsylvania Common Cause.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.