PSU trustee hopefuls start lengthy process
STATE COLLEGE – The latest election for Penn State trustee members may serve as another barometer of how well the university is recovering from scandal in the minds of alumni.
Only a housecleaning will do, some of the school’s more vocal alumni say, in order for them to regain trust in school leadership following the turmoil that started in 2011 with the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges.
The election process began this month with a nomination period for prospective candidates for the three seats on the 32-member board. Alumni will vote this spring.
“It’s going to take more new blood on the to the board to make changes,” said Matt Prisby, a 1971 graduate who has traveled from his home in Hilton Head, S.C., for the past two board meetings.
Until last year, the trustees election was a mere afterthought among the school’s more than half a million alumni.
All that changed after the Sandusky scandal.
The response by trustees and other university leaders to the crisis has been a point of contention for groups of alumni, former players, faculty, staff and residents since the scandal’s first frantic days. The dismissal of coach Joe Paterno, who was fired in a late-night telephone call, remains a sore topic a year after his death on Jan. 22, 2012.
In the aftermath last year, the board election drew plenty of attention. More than 37,000 alumni voted, shattering the record set in 1990 by about 10,000.
Three candidates who voiced varying degrees of criticism of the board won seats on it: former football player and current attorney Adam Taliaferro, prominent donor and outspoken board critic Anthony Lubrano and retired U.S. Navy captain Ryan McCombie.
Now, more new voices are needed to help accelerate reforms, some alumni contend.
“Essentially not much has changed over the last year with the way the board is run,” Prisby said.
Alumni have criticized Penn State’s response to the internal investigation by former FBI director Louis Freeh in July and the stinging NCAA sanctions that followed less than two weeks later. Freeh accused Paterno and three former school administrators of covering up abuse allegations against Sandusky to protect the school’s image, which both Paterno’s family and the administrators have firmly denied.
Board leaders note that the school has enacted more than half of the 119 recommendations in Freeh’s report. Trustees have made more meetings public and started a public-comment period, and they’re weighing other suggestions to reform governance that were put forward separately by former Auditor General Jack Wagner, Gov. Tom Corbett and Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre.
Trustees are also encouraged by the recent results of a survey of more than 1,100 alumni conducted by a public relations firm for the school that found that “recent events” were having a less pronounced negative impact on alumni feelings in December than in May.
The new leaders of the board have promised to continue to look at reforms, including changing the size and makeup of the board, and take up a possible vote by spring. Keith Masser, a potato farming executive, took over as chairman this month, and lawyer Stephanie Deviney is vice chairwoman.
“Now more than ever, we as trustees need to advocate for Penn State,” Deviney said. “We need to effectively communicate with all of our constituents.”
Deviney’s term is up this year and she plans to run again for her alumni-elected seat.
An alumni watchdog group, Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, again plans to vet and endorse candidates. Last year, the group endorsed Lubrano and McCombie.
Spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt said the group’s membership has grown tenfold in a year to about 15,000. She said she’s aware of 40 alumni interested in being nominated.