AG: Penn State should overhaul governance structure

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Penn State University should overhaul its governing structure in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, with the most important step being removal of the university president as a voting trustee, state Auditor General Jack Wagner said Wednesday.

Wagner called in July for that and other recommended changes, but his new report elaborates on them and extends into new areas, including board term limits, the granting of emeritus status and the ability of university employees to become trustees.

He said the suggested changes might not have prevented what occurred when Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, used his affiliation with the university to sexually abuse children. Former high-ranking university officials face charges they helped cover up complaints about Sandusky.

“Real and substantive reform of the governance structure is still presently not occurring,” Wagner said at a Capitol news conference. “It's time for the General Assembly, the governor and the board of trustees to step up.”

He argued that the 32-member board is too large and the Right-to-Know Law should fully extend to Penn State and the three other “state-related” schools: Lincoln, Pitt and Temple. The state Public Official and Ethics Act also should apply to Penn State, the report said.

He said some of the rules that direct how Penn State operates — including having the governor vote on board matters — date to an 1855 law that helped establish it.

He would shrink the board from 32 members to 21 plus a nonvoting governor, then increase the number needed for a voting quorum from 13 to a majority of members.

University spokesman Dave La Torre said the report will be reviewed and offered the same response when asked about the recommendations that have been on the table since Wagner made them this summer.

Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, endorsed Wagner's recommendations. He said Penn State has given too much power to its president.

Wagner's investigators found shortcomings in a spotcheck of the publicly available minutes of trustees meetings, saying they did not fully reflect what occurred and did not include the names of trustees who introduced motions or how individuals voted. The report recommended making agendas available to the public at least five days before meetings.

The board's term limits also should be changed to nine years, Wagner said. The limits are 15 years for current members, with exceptions, and 12 years for trustees who join the board after July 2013, also with exceptions. Term limit language in bylaws should be expressed more clearly, the report said.

Wagner recommended the board consider ending the practice of granting emeritus status to its own members and to examine the costs of the practice.

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