PSU trustees approve changes; incumbents rejected

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Published: May 06 2013 08:41:30 AM EDT
Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -

Penn State's Board of Trustees have approved governance reforms, and two incumbent trustees have learned they were voted out by alumni in a contentious election.

Paul Suhey and board vice chair Stephanie Deviney lost their seats after facing vocal opposition from critics angered by the board's actions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Three alumni seats were open on the board. The third seat belonged to Steve Garban, who resigned last summer.

Winning election were Barbara Doran, William Oldsey and Ted Brown. Each was endorsed by an alumni group that has been critical of university leadership.

The newly elected trustees watched from the audience while the current board approved governance changes including reducing the size of the board by two to 30 by taking away the voting power of Pennsylvania’s governor and the university president.

The proposals had been studied for months. Other recommendations approved include changing the requirement for quorum from a majority of members to 13 and implementing a five-year waiting period before commonwealth row officers can become trustees.

Another change would cut the time required for notice before the board meets from 10 days to three.

Penn State officials called the changes significant. The measures were approved after months of deliberations, initiated after former FBI director Louis Freeh offered 119 recommendations last July to improve the university as part of his investigation into the scandal for Penn State.

“In one fell swoop, it’s probably the biggest change to the bylaws that we’ve made in 100 years,” said trustee Joel Myers. “Many institutions don’t make this change at all, certainly over decades.”

Alumni, the university faculty senate and the auditor general’s office also had weighed in with recommendations.

In a statement, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he was encouraged by the changes toward greater transparency. But, he said, there was more work to do to regain “the confidence of the public and the university community,” including expanding the Right-to-Know law to the university.

Leaders have vowed the study of governance changes would not end.

“I can assure that (trustees) will continue to address these items,” trustees chair Keith Masser said.

Anthony Lubrano was the only trustee to vote against the measures. He said his main concerns were the size of the board and the size and influence of the six-member constituency of business trustees.

“We just took baby steps today,” he said. “I think we have a lot of work to do.”

A group of about 50 alumni in attendance, including former Pittsburgh Steelers and Penn State running back Franco Harris, remained skeptical.

During a public comment period, speaker Robert Bannon questioned talk of a proposal on the board that critics said would limit public disagreement among trustees.

Later, Bannon said he supported most of the changes except for a clause that detailed how a trustee could be removed.

“This board of trustees continues to demonstrate its ineptitude,” said Bannon, a student.

Harris drew applause after taking verbal jabs at trustees. He has been outspoken among alumni critics upset with the firing of Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno in November 2011 days after Sandusky, a former assistant coach, was arrested.

Trustees have said Paterno was ousted in part because he didn’t meet a moral obligation to do more to alert authorities about allegations against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85. His family has vehemently denied any suggestion that he would cover up such allegations.

Sandusky was convicted in June of abusing several boys, some on Penn State’s campus. He’s serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence but maintains his innocence.

Freeh’s scathing findings and the subsequent landmark NCAA sanctions against the university’s football program remain other flashpoints for the irritated alumni and ex-players.

“Joe’s love, honor and integrity will remain the spirit of this great institution,” Harris said. “We understand you are trying to break us down ... but you must understand we will never give up.”

Among those cheering on Harris were members of the vocal alumni group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which had waged an aggressive campaign for its endorsed candidates. Thirty-nine were on the ballot.

Suhey, a former football player, left quickly out a side door after the meeting. He and Deviney were on the board in November 2011.

Suhey’s candidacy especially drew criticism from other former players, exposing a rift in the Penn State football family. He said in a statement that he was honored to have served the board for 15 years. He offered congratulations to the incoming members, who will take their seats in July.

The third seat up for election belonged to Steve Garban, who resigned last summer. Garban was board chairman in November 2011.

More than 33,000 ballots were cast in this year’s election, down from the record 37,000 last year but still a much higher turnout than in elections before the scandal.

Doran was the top vote-getter with more than 15,000 votes, Oldsey was second with nearly 14,000 and Brown was third at more than 11,000.

Suhey was fourth with about 4,500 votes. Deviney finished with just more than 2,000 votes.

“Having three new reformist candidates come in sends a message very loud and clear to the board,” Doran said.

Masser said he was looking forward to getting to know the new trustees and working with them.

Bank of New York Mellon president Karen Peetz was re-nominated for another three-year term as a business trustee. The business trustees are selected by board members.

Lawyer Richard Dandrea was approved to take the business trustee seat of U.S. Steel chairman John Surma, whose departure had been sought by critical alumni upset after he announced Paterno’s firing at a hastily called news conference.