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PSU faculty pose changes to trustees

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State's Board of Trustees should add academic representatives to the school's governing body, a faculty group said on Monday in the latest recommendations for governance reforms because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

The report from a Penn State faculty senate committee is thought to be the first recommendations from a group affiliated with the university.

Former FBI director Louis Freeh, who was hired by the school to investigate its handling of sexual abuse allegations against the former assistant football coach, and then-Auditor General Jack Wagner are among the others who have weighed in with suggestions for the school.

“One of the best means of ensuring that the Board understands the mission, values, unique structures and operating systems of the complex academic institution that it governs is to select members who have academic expertise and professional experience in higher education,” the report said.

The lack of academic representation on a school governing board has been a question raised at institutions across the country, according to the faculty members.

Freeh's report accused three high-ranking university officials, including former president Graham Spanier, of helping to cover up complaints about Sandusky. Those former administrators, who have maintained their innocence, face criminal charges.

Wagner last year recommended the removal of the president as a voting trustee. But the faculty senate committee urged that the president remain on the 32-member board, in large part because the president is the only member on the panel with direct higher education governance experience.

The suggestion of removing the president amounts to a “cosmetic change that would have little practical implication to the governance of the university,” said John Nichols, an emeritus communications professor and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The committee advocated academic representation on the board, including at least two faculty members. While not widespread, the inclusion of faculty on governing boards is becoming more common at public universities, the report said.

It cited as examples Cornell University, with two faculty members on its 64-member board; and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, with 17 public trustees and 14 medical professional trustees.

University spokesman Dave La Torre said the board would carefully review the recommendations and the report would be an important component in the efforts to study governance.

The 32-member board includes alumni, business and agricultural representatives, as well five appointees by the governor. The governor is an ex-officio member, along with the school president and the Pennsylvania secretaries of agriculture, education and conservation and natural resources.

The faculty group advocated removal of political officials from the board, but allowing the governor to continue to make appointments. Members called the governance structure endorsed in Wagner's report a classic “top-down, corporate style” model at odds with the concept of a university.

Among other recommendations, the faculty group said the size of the board should be reduced, and called Wagner's recommendation for a 22-member board “reasonable.”

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