Penn State trustees address reforms at hearing
A state lawmaker from Centre County continued to press his package of proposed reforms to the way Penn State University is governed at a hearing on Wednesday at PSU's Greater Allegheny campus.
State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, is prime sponsor of House Bills 299, 310, 311 and 312, which were referred to the House Education and State Government committees on Jan. 23.
Conklin said his bills would:
• Make the state's Right-to-Know Law applicable to Penn State as well as the other state-related universities, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
• Cut the size of the board of trustees from 32 to 22 members.
• Establish three-year terms and a three-term limit for trustees.
• Require annual election of board officers.
• Require trustees to comply with the state's Ethics Act.
• Bar the university president and the governor from serving as voting members of the board.
• Make the governor and state secretaries of Education, Agriculture and Conservation & Natural Resources ex-officio board members.
• Bar the governor and state row officers from serving on the board for four years after their terms end.
Co-sponsors of the package include Reps. R. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, and Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg.
“The only way you are going to get true reform is through the legislative process,” said former state Sen. Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair County, at a McKeesport hearing Conklin convened because none had occurred for his bills in Harrisburg.
Jubelirer was an unsuccessful candidate for the board of trustees in elections this past spring.
“It is important to the university and to the future of the university and confidence of all of you who love the university that we continue to persevere,” Jubelirer said. “Much needs to be done to restore Penn State as the greatest university in the land.”
“We need change, we need reform,” Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano told an audience that never exceeded two dozen in the Ostermayer Room at Greater Allegheny's Student Community Center. “Without the legislative effort we will continue to kick the can down the road at Penn State.”
Jubelirer has roots in the Mon-Yough area — his father lived in McKeesport, his father's siblings were born here, and all of them graduated from old McKeesport High School.
Penn State trustee chairman Keith Masser said Conklin's bills are unnecessary and declined the invitation to testify in McKeesport.
“This subject matter has been covered in several official legislative committee hearings in Harrisburg, and another that you hosted in State College just two months ago,” Masser wrote. “Furthermore, questions related to the structure and operations of the Penn State board of trustees continue to be raised and debated among members of the board, and are the subject of ongoing review by the board's Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning, which continues to seek input from internal and external experts.”
The State College hearing, like the one in McKeesport, was not sanctioned by legislative leaders. Conklin said the “official legislative committee hearings” dealt with another measure, House Bill 61, which would extend the state Right to Know Law to cover Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln.
HB 61's prime sponsor is Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County. Kortz is a co-sponsor of that bill, as are Reps. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, and Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township.
The House State Government Committee approved HB 61 on April 22, but then tabled it on June 17.
On April 10, Conklin presented resolutions to compel the Education and State Government committees to discharge his bills. He believed the April 22 committee vote on HB 61 was prompted by rumors that he would press for a vote that day on the discharge resolutions.
Conklin said his proposals were prompted by recommendations issued by then-state Auditor General Jack Wagner in the wake of the conviction and sentencing of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sexual abuse charges.
Lubrano knew the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and told the Greater Allegheny gathering of a meeting he had with Paterno less than two weeks before his death, and after the Penn State trustees stripped Paterno of his coaching position.
“This isn't about me,” Lubrano quoted Paterno as saying. “It is about our school and leaving it a better place than we found it.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.