In easier times, Happy Valley was serene, and the annual rite of electing alumni to Penn State University's board of trustees carried all the drama and intrigue of watching sweat bead.
Then came the Jerry Sandusky scandal, a fit of alumni anger over the firing of football coach Joe Paterno and an election last year that instead of attracting a handful of candidates drew dozens -- even one with his own TV commercial.
Now, another campaign has started, and with it has come what may be another first in the race: An attack ad.
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, or PS4RS, an alumni group seeking the ouster of board members over Paterno's firing, is placing advertisements in Central Pennsylvania targeting incumbents Paul Suhey and Stephanie Nolan Deviney, who are seeking re-election to two of the three alumni seats open this year.
The first ad appeared in Monday's Centre Daily Times, on its sports section cover. The 6-by-3-inch ad reads: "Suhey and Deviney voted to fire Joe Pa. Now they want OUR vote. Really?"
Roger Williams, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, could recall no similar ads during his decades at Penn State, nor the acrimony seen the last two years. His 169,000-member group does not endorse candidates.
"The attitude has always been from the board office to run a positive campaign, to avoid denigrating other candidates," he said. "It think that has been the prevailing spirit of the election."
Apparently, he added, "Things have changed."
Mr. Suhey, an orthopedic surgeon from Boalsburg, Pa., called the anger and divisiveness unfortunate given what Penn State faces.
"As someone who played for Joe Paterno and was a captain, I know full well that he did a lot of tremendous things for the university and inspired generations of students and alumni," he said. "But as a trustee, I have a responsibility to focus on the entire university and its many challenges in helping to educate our more than 96,000 students. That's where my focus is."
Ms. Deviney, an Exton, Pa., attorney who is the board's vice
chairwoman, said: "Negative campaigning doesn't achieve a single thing for the students who look to Penn State for a world-class education. ... I'm not going to engage it."
Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, is in prison for sexually assaulting 10 boys, some on the campus, in a scandal that led to the departure of leaders including Mr. Paterno.
Maribeth Roman Schmidt, a PS4RS spokeswoman, said the ads are aimed at an area where most of the alumni voting occurred last year and will appear periodically through April 1, when the 15,000-member PS4RS announces its three endorsed candidates.
The group wants to keep pressure on the incumbents while the 31 candidates seeking PS4RS's nod are vetted, she said. In all, 39 candidates are running.
She said the ads are supported by donations -- which she put in the five figures, without elaborating -- and may expand to other media outlets. "I'd love to venture out to Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia if we could afford to do so."
Updated on March 5, 2013, to add a quote from university trustee Stephanie Nolan Deviney.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.