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Alumni outrage a factor in voting for PSU board

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Monday, April 16, 2012
 

Alumni anger at Penn State University's board of trustees morphed into outrage after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, and it is certain to effect a change in the board by early May.

That's when voting for alumni representatives to the board of trustees will end. At least two new people, possibly three, will join the board.

The outrage from alumni about how the board handled the alleged Sandusky child sex abuse and its subsequent firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno is manifest in the field of 86 candidates seeking to fill three of the nine alumni board seats.

The last election for alumni seats, in 2011, had six candidates running for three seats.

Among the Western Pennsylvania alums vying for the seats are:

• James Antoniono, 66, an attorney and former West Leechburg resident who now lives in Greensburg.

• Joanne DiRinaldo, 54, a pharmaceutical/biotech industry executive from Murrysville, who also sits on the Penn State New Kensington Advisory Board.

• Richard "Dirk" Matson, 57, of Ligonier who is an executive with the nonprofit Adelphoi USA, which works with at-risk youths.

• Gregory "Sandy" Sanderson, 35, of Shaler, president and CEO of CollClubSports, which is governing body for collegiate club sports.

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The Paterno factor

While the firing of Paterno has been a hot button issue and motivator for some candidates, DiRinaldo, Matson, Antoniono and Sanderson all said that was not the case for them.

However, all of them said they did not like nor agree with the way the board handled Paterno's firing on Nov. 9, 2011, for what it termed "a failure of leadership" in not doing more in regard to Sandusky.

Sandusky, who retired from Paterno's coaching staff in 1999, was arrested on Nov. 5, 2011, after a three-year investigation into his alleged sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Investigators said some of the assaults occurred in the Lasch Building, which houses the football program at Penn State's University Park campus.

University officials, including Paterno, testified before a state grand jury.

"I don't think it took a rocket scientist to know that the board knew what was going on before the scandal broke, but yet they looked like a deer caught in the headlights," Antoniono said. "They should have been making progress on that months before it became news.

"There had to be board knowledge as to what was going on, and I just think there had to be a better way in dealing with Coach Paterno, considering what he has done for the university," he said. "I think the board has to take a long, hard look at how best to remember the life of a giant who walked on that campus, the likes of whom we will never see again."

Paterno, who died of lung cancer on Jan. 22, was told about one of the incidents by a graduate assistant in 2002 and reported it to then Athletic Director Tim Curley. The board said he should have done more.

Many alumni think that Paterno was fired because the board bowed to public opinion and media pressure in doing damage control. They are angry because Paterno was fired without being questioned by the board, and because it was done via a phone conversation with board Vice President John Surma.

"I know a lot of people are troubled about how they (trustees) handled the Paterno situation, but for me it goes to much more than that," Matson said. "They just seemed like they had no plan in how to deal with this thing and we were handling it in a knee-jerk fashion."

He said that he would wait until all the investigations into the Sandusky matter are completed before taking action to honor Paterno.

Sanderson said he has been trying to "steer clear of the Paterno radicals" and that "about 75 percent" of the candidates seem to be running to get revenge for the late coach.

"I'm not running for Joe," Sanderson said. "I am running because I personally feel that I can do good for this university in all aspects: academics, athletics and general operations."

DiRinaldo said: "I feel that the board acted too hastily in its decisions and I feel that due process should take its course." But she added that she did not agree with alumni calls for the board to resign en masse.

"I don't see there being any resolution to the situation if it is antagonistic and the board is an enemy to the alumni," DiRinaldo said. "How are we going to move into the future if we don't open up dialogue• How do you expect to change anything if you don't have a dialogue and understand things?"

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Getting transparent

A key criticism of the university in general and the board in particular is that it has operated for too long in a shroud of secrecy.

There has been a demand, not only from alumni but also from those outside the Penn State family, that board decision making and operations of the university, which receives millions of taxpayer dollars in aid, be more open.

For DiRinaldo, Matson and Antoniono, that starts with a restructuring of the 32-member board, of which nine seats are reserved for Penn State alumni.

All three advocate having alumni occupy at least half of the board seats. Antoniono and DiRinaldo also want to reduce the size of the board; Matson said he would consider that.

DiRinaldo said she has contacted her local state legislators in an effort to amend the university charter and bylaws so that changes can be made.

"I am looking to see a reduction of the current members of the board and I would like to see more representation of the branch campuses," DiRinaldo said.

She also said she wants to see a reduction in the 10 seats held by the governor, three of his cabinet members and six people appointed by the governor. She wants to give the faculty some representation.

DiRinaldo said board meetings should be open to the public except in cases where the subject requires confidentiality.

Antoniono and Matson agree that changing bylaws to revamp the board structure will help foster transparency.

"I don't see any good that comes out of not being transparent," Antoniono said. "There is no excuse."

Sanderson however, doesn't agree with the board's being completely transparent.

"Airing your dirty laundry for the world to see is not a good business practice," he said. "Everybody has problems. I am not saying to cover them up, but you don't fly them like a flag for university.

"Alumni have the right to come in and sit in on a meeting. They have earned that right by having attended and graduated from the school. Do Pitt alumni have that right (to be on Penn State's board)• No, it is not their business."

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Take on tuition

The local candidates seem to agree that something has to be done to address rapidly growing tuition rates.

Tuition has risen, at least in part, because of cuts in state budget appropriations by Gov. Tom Corbett last year and a pending round of cuts this year.

DiRinaldo said, "I think the key here is to look at the endowments. I think the university needs to look at some of the endowments for funding some of the operations so that we can keep tuition in line."

She said two other points in her campaign -- expanding scholarships and leveraging contributions from industry -- will help control and possibly lower tuition.

"Penn State has got to look harder at doing what a lot of other folks have been doing, and that is make cuts," Matson said. "Even in good times, I had questions about why tuition was going up so much at Penn State."

Matson would like to see no increase in tuition but doesn't think that's realistic. He would ask all administrators to come up with budget cuts aimed at ensuring tuition does not rise more than 2 percent.

Sanderson said he is unsure of how much and what can be cut because he doesn't have access to the information the board has. But he said that a Penn State education has proven to be valuable to thousands of graduates.

"Should something that is valuable be expensive• Yes, it certainly should be," Sanderson said. "A Penn State education has become one of the tops in the country, if not the world, in the past couple of decades. And when you have something valuable, the costs for it are going to rise. Why shouldn't that be true of the Penn State product?"

He thinks one idea worth exploring is to hold whatever the tuition is for a student in his or her freshman year to the same level through all four years.

"At a school the size of Penn State, I can't imagine that you can't cut a couple percent off the budget without affecting the quality of education," Antoniono said. "Everything, I think, should be looked at."

Antoniono regards the skyrocketing tuition as a threat to the university's mission.

"You are excluding a lot of students that come from working class families in the state," he said. "Penn State used to be one of the best bargains in the state -- up until the last 20 years, when the tuition has just skyrocketed."

Expiring terms

Of the three Penn State University trustees whose terms are expiring this year, only Anne Riley, a 1964 graduate from Boalsburg and a 14-year board member, is running for re-election.

As for the two others, one seat is held by David R. Jones, a retired New York Times editor from Montclair, N.J., who is stepping down. The other was held by Dr. David Joyner of the Harrisburg area, who left the board to become the university's acting athletic director in November.

PSU voting

All 550,000 Penn State University alumni can participate in voting for candidates running for three open 3-year alumni seats on the university board of trustees.

Voting began April 10 and will continue until the university's voting website closes at 9 a.m. May 3.

An email containing voting credentials will be provided automatically to alumni who are members of the Penn State Alumni Association, or alumni who have been members or contributed to the Penn State Fund within the past two years.

However, all other alumni can obtain a voting link and credentials by contacting the Board of Trustees Office at BOT@psu.edu and providing their full name (at time of graduation), year of graduation, college/major, current mailing address and current email address.

Information about the candidates is available on the university website at http://www.psu.edu/trustees/vote/2012_Alumni/ or at a website sponsored by Penn Staters Reforming the Board of Trustees at: http://psu-rebot.org/index.php/psu-bot-super-table.

 

 
 


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