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Lawmaker to propose plan to change how Penn State is governed

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 12:58 p.m.

Lawmakers and others are beginning a push to reform Penn State's board of trustees, reduce its size and compel the release of more university records one year after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal began.

At least one lawmaker said he's planning to sponsor legislation based on Auditor General Jack Wagner's highly critical 124-page report on Penn State that included two dozen reform proposals. Two other lawmakers and an alumni group expect to meet with Wagner this week.

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-State College, on Monday said he will introduce a reform proposal that would remove the university president from the board of trustees and prohibit him from serving on any board committees or subcommittees. It would strip the governor of voting power on the board; cap service on the board at nine years, down from the current 12 years; reduce the size of the board from 32 to 21 voting members; and make all four state-related universities subject to the full provisions of the state's Right-to-Know law.

Conklin's chief of staff, Tor Michaels, said a bipartisan group of 18 lawmakers signed on to a similar proposal when Conklin called for co-sponsors this year.

It is unclear whether Republicans, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, will support the reforms, but Wagner said two Centre County Republican lawmakers — Sen. Jake Corman and Rep. Kerry Benninghoff — asked to meet with him to discuss the report. A spokesman for Corman confirmed he will meet with Wagner this week.

An Allegheny County Democrat, Wagner leaves office this month after two four-year terms as the state's fiscal watchdog. He is optimistic that lawmakers will coalesce behind his suggestions, including the one to remove the president from the university's board of trustees.

Wagner said he has heard trustees are reluctant to end the arrangement in which the university president is both a trustee and the secretary of the board.

“It has given too much power to the president,” Wagner said.

Penn State spokesman David LaTorre said the university is weighing reform proposals.

“We welcome the input from Rep. Conklin. The university is currently working to assess and implement reform recommendations made in the Freeh Report. To date, 61 of 119 have been completed, including important reforms for the board of trustees. We are also anticipating recommendations from the faculty senate. We will closely review the senate's report, as well as those provided by Auditor General Wagner, Rep. Conklin and others in the coming months,” LaTorre said.

A spokeswoman for an alumni group that formed in the wake of the Sandusky scandal said her group will meet with Wagner this week on his proposals.

“We're surprised and disappointed that change has not come from within. ... I think our group is optimistic that change can be made through the Pennsylvania Legislature,” said Maribeth Roman Schmidt, who is with Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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