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Board of Trustees Public Comment Plagued by Alumni Anger & Technical Difficulties

by on March 20, 2015 11:53 AM

The Penn State Board of Trustees continues to struggle to hold effective public comment sessions at its meetings – although the outrage expressed by alumni remains constant. 

After sparking anger in some alumni for putting the board and the public in different rooms at the January public comment session, the public was once again separated from the board on Friday morning. 

But instead of just being in different rooms in the same building, the board held their public comment session in a separate building from the audience – with the public (mostly media members and university affiliates) watching a live stream plagued by delays, internet connectivity problems and an inability to hear comments made by the some of the trustees.

The sparsely-attended viewing room lacked the frustration that was evident at the January meeting, but emotions ran high in the comments made to the board by alumni.

Alumni Barry Fenchak tore into trustee Mark Dambly, arguing that his involvement in an antitrust lawsuit and various civil suits compromises his ability to help allocate university funds. And he had similarly strong words for the board as a whole.

“Here in this room lies the cancer that afflicts Penn State,” Fenchak said. “Penn State needs to put just as much effort into eliminating this cancer as its students put into Thon each year.”

Alumni Jeff Goldsmith brought up pending legislation in the state senate that would restructure the board of trustees. While he admitted he doesn’t think state intervention is the best option for reform, he urged the board to act with greater transparency and accountability.

Alumna Denise McClellan accused the board of “creating divisions” within the university community. She also expressed doubts at the effectiveness of the public comment sessions, and advocated for the creation of an independent alumni organization to encourage greater discussion of the issues facing the university.

Penn State Vice-President for Student Affairs Damon Sims also briefed the board about the work of the university’s sexual assault task force.

To illustrate the importance of combatting issues of sexual combat, Sims suggested the board “look no further” than the allegations that members of Kappa Delta Rho posted photos of nude, unconscious women to a private Facebook page – which has brought “deeply embarrassing” national attention to Penn State.

Sims explained that sexual misconduct presents complex and interrelated legal, regulatory, social and psychological consequences, making it a uniquely challenging topic to tackle. It can represent a massive liability for the university, but that’s not what Sims wanted the board to focus on.

“It’s the very real human cost that should command our attention instead,” Sims said. “…Too often I’ve talked to a student who believes they’re the victim of sexual assault and heard the pain in their voice, or seen the loss in the eyes of a student who believes they’re a victim of false accusations.”

Penn State student and sex assault task force member Melissa McCleery also spoke to the importance of ending sexual violence during the public comment session. She acknowledged that many trustees have been vocal advocates against sex assault. However, she also singled out a nameless trustee for rolling their eyes during a January presentation from the sex assault task force and refusing to apologize afterwards.

“I have never been so disrespected and insulted by another human being in my life,” McCleery said.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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