The controlling majority of Penn State University’s Board of Trustees has demonstrated repeatedly that it is unwilling or unable to follow the board’s standing orders, the rules of the university and the state’s open meeting laws. It seemingly has also subordinated the well-being of the university to a whitewash of its previous mistakes. State. Sen. John Yudichak’s reform legislation, Senate Bill 1240, is barely a good start toward correction of these problems.
1. When the board panicked in the face of the Jerry Sandusky indictment in November 2011, it allegedly violated the commonwealth’s Sunshine Law by convening an emergency meeting without the required public notice, and for purposes for which an emergency meeting is not legitimate. The board’s Executive Committee reinforced this perception by holding a “do-over,” this one with the necessary public notice, to ratify the emergency meeting’s decisions, but without allowing the rest of the board to vote.
2. In July 2012, board leaders Kenneth Frazier and Karen Peetz affirmed, the latter in her capacity as chairwoman and explicitly on Penn State’s behalf, Louis Freeh’s determination that Penn State had somehow facilitated Sandusky’s crimes against children. This violated the board’s standing orders that say no trustee can act on the university’s behalf without consent of the board, which is on record as never having voted to accept the Freeh Report.
3. When the National Collegiate Athletic Association essentially lied about “Penn State’s” acceptance of the Freeh Report’s findings as an excuse to impose the kind of sanctions it normally reserves for the nation’s most corrupt and dishonest athletic programs, trustees Peetz and Frazier failed to perform the basic duty of correcting this misstatement of fact.
4. The board took no action when then-President Rodney Erickson agreed to the sanctions, an action that was arguably outside the scope of his authority, without the board’s consent. The Commonwealth Court opined this April that the board was derelict in its fiduciary duty for failing to correct this situation, and also that the NCAA had no authority to impose the sanctions in the first place.
5. This May, the board named a building for President Erickson on the day of his retirement even though the university’s rules say that no building can be named for a university employee until “a sufficient time” has passed.
6. This June, President Eric Barron’s assistant apparently sent an unauthorized letter to the Pennsylvania Senate to say that the board opposes SB 1240. This suggests that certain trustees again violated the standing orders, and President Barron’s chain of command, by directing the assistant to send the letter.
7. In August, the board, with the exception of the alumni-elected trustees and student trustee, voted to continue to go along with the NCAA sanctions despite full knowledge of the Commonwealth Court’s opinion.
8. The Business and Industry Trustees, who seemingly are the primary source of these problems, apparently might not even be legitimate board members. Former Trustee Robert Horst pointed out that charter of the university, followed by a court ruling of 1951, says these six trustees “are elected by delegates of county engineering, mining, manufacturing and mechanical societies or associations.” Their current appointment by five members of the board, three of whom are B&I faction members, does not meet this requirement.
Penn State’s governance is clearly at the point where the university needs the Legislature, and/or a court of law, to step in to correct what can be regarded as mismanagement, dereliction of fiduciary duty and a whitewash of past mistakes at the university’s expense.
William A. Levinson, of Wilkes-Barre, is the coauthor of “The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford’s Universal Code for World-Class Success” and other books on quality, management and industrial productivity. He is an alumnus of Penn State University.