Is Penn State’s Board of Trustees Too Big?

Governance changes are ongoing at the Penn State Board of Trustees.  It’s already added a public comment period at meetings and imposed new 12-year term limits on members.  In May, trustee James Broadhurst tells lawmakers the board will take up the recommendations of the Committee on Governance and Long-Range planning that he chairs.  Those plans include changes in the status of the university president and governor, making both non-voting members of the board.  But Broadhurst says they are not recommending a change in the size of the board at this time.

“There is no model or best practice that speaks to the optimal size or makeup of a university board of trustees,” Broadhurst testified before the Senate State Government Committee this week.  Penn State’s board has 32-voting members.  If it votes to change the status of the president and governor, there would be 30-voting members. 

But trustee Anthony Lubrano fears the can will get kicked down the road until governance reforms are no longer a priority.  “Membership should be reduced to a number that allows for the inclusion and active engagement of the entire board,” Lubrano testified before the committee. 

For comparison, other Big Ten universities have much smaller boards (Ohio State 19, Michigan 9).  “They have to be actively engaged… this is a $4.3-billion dollar enterprise… this is serious business,” says Lubrano.    

Senate State Government Committee chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) will call additional hearings as he tries to find consensus on whether, where and what legislative action is warranted when it comes to Penn State governance.

Governance Discussion to Include All State-Relateds

Former Auditor General Jack Wagner’s special report on Penn State’s governance will be the subject of a state Senate committee hearing later this month.  “It will be a look at whether there should be changes, and then whether the legislature should have a role in that,” says State Government Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), who adds that the talks will eventually be broadened to include the other three state related universities as well. 

Smucker, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee, got the ball rolling with a few questions for the universities’ leaders this week. 

Penn State President Rodney Erickson says their committee on governance & long-range planning will offer some suggested changes to the Board of Trustees later this month.  “Much has already changed with the structure and operations of the board, and there’s surely more to come.” 

None of the leaders of PSU, Lincoln and the University of Pittsburgh expressed concern over one possible reform, which would remove the president’s voting powers on their respective boards.  Temple’s president did not offer an opinion because he’s only been on the job two months, and hasn’t even attended his first trustees’ meeting. 

University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg did weigh in on another big recommendation in Jack Wagner’s Penn State report – reducing the size of the board.  “I don’t know how a small board could exercise proper oversight over an institution the size of Penn State or Pitt or Temple, unless they were going to be full-time board members,” says Nordenberg, noting that smaller is not always better. 

Penn State’s Board of Trustees has 32-members.  Pitt’s board has 36-voting members; Temple’s has 36-voting members; and Lincoln’s has 39.  For reference, Ohio State’s board has 19-members (2-non-voting).  The University of Michigan has 9-board members (1-non-voting).

PSU President Gets Pay Raise

After one year on the job, Penn State President Rodney Erickson is getting a 16% pay increase, which brings his annual salary to $600,000 dollars.  The pay raise is performance-based, and outgoing Trustees chair Karen Peetz says he’s done a tremendous job leading Penn State through a difficult year. 

“It is imperative that we have a strong, effective leader to ensure our future excellence,” Peetz said in a written statement.  “Rod Erickson is that leader.  His salary is in line with competitors and we are pleased to support his presidency.” 

Erickson plans to retire in June 2014, and a nationwide search for his replacement is about to get underway.  Peetz will be stepping down from her leadership post, to focus on her new position, but will remain a member of the board. 

Even with Erickson’s raise, he’s earning far less than his predecessor, and he will not be receiving any of the deferred compensation.

Governor Tom Corbett: “I was not the driving force behind the firing of Joe Paterno”

Last month, ESPN the Magazine published a scathing article critical of Governor Tom Corbett’s role in the firing of the late Joe Paterno last November. The iconic Penn State Head Coach was dismissed by the Penn State Board of Trustees, of which Governor Corbett is an ex-officio member, in the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal.

Appearing on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program Thursday, Governor Corbett made his most extensive comments on the article to date, calling it “sloppy journalism” and disputing several points, including a claim by ESPN that he refused numerous requests to respond to the article. Corbett says the magazine contacted his office on the eve of his European trade mission, but that he would have been happy to speak with them upon his return.

The ESPN article portrays Corbett the driving force behind the firing of Joe Paterno, a claim he flatly denies. Corbett told Radio PA that he played a minor role in the conference call the evening the decision was made to fire Paterno, primarily reminding the trustees to “remember the children.”

Newly-elected Penn State Board of Trustees member Anthony Lubrano has been critical of the governor based on the information in the ESPN article. He told WITF radio this week that he did believe the governor played a significant role in the dismissal of Paterno. Lubrano was elected to the 32-member board on a platform largely based on alumni outrage over the handling of Joe Paterno in the days after the Sandusky scandal rocked the university.

Governor Corbett says he plans to meet with Lubrano and other board members to further discuss the issue and he believes Lubrano’s opinion will change based on those talks.