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BOT Passes Resolution to Continue Complying With Consent Decree, Keep $60 Million in PA

by on August 13, 2014 11:03 AM

After an exchange that grew more heated with each comment, the Penn State Board of Trustees approved a resolution Wednesday that could help settle contentious lawsuits pitting the NCAA against state officials.

A special meeting was called after the board was asked to outline its position on any potential settlement in the lawsuit between state Sen. Jake Corman and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Due to the short notice, many trustees - including including chairman Keith Masser, connected through a conference call.

After the special meeting began, the board quickly got into a contentious debate over language that included continued compliance with the consent decree that Penn State signed in 2012 following the Sandusky scandal. The consent decree paved the way for the NCAA to impose harsh sanctions against the football team, including a loss of scholarships, a bowl ban and a $60 million fine.

Trustee Anthony Lubrano, one of the nine alumni-elected trustees, said he's concerned about the timing of the resolution, which was distributed to board members at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening.

“There’s just not enough time to review and discuss this potential resolution,” Lubrano said. “I’d ask for the board to table the motion to give us the opportunity to have a full, frank and open conversation in public.”

Trustee Richard Dandrea responded that the topic of continued decree compliance has been debated over the past couple years, making Lubrano’s request for more time redundant.

Lubrano was not alone in asking for more time. Fellow alumni-elect Adam Taliaferro ultimately abstained from the vote on the resolution, as did student trustee Allison Goldstein.

“We need further conversation on this issue … There are so many smart people on this board,” Taliaferro said. “We can figure this out together eventually.”

Albert Lord, another trustee elected by alumni, called the push to pass the resolution a repeat of the “rush to judgment” that led to the adoption of the Freeh report and the signing of the consent decree in 2012, which he regards as a mistake because he disputes the validity of the decree.

Trustee Keith Eckel disagreed, saying that the end of the timetable of sanctions in the consent decree is in sight. By turning away from the decree after two years of compliance, the board would risk lengthening the process through legal battles that would ultimately be a distraction from serving the student body.

Steve Dunham, Penn State’s general counsel, pointed out that the push to pass the resolution was motivated in part by the court’s desire for the board to take a stance on State Senator Jake Corman’s lawsuit against the NCAA, which seeks to force the NCAA to spend the $60 million fine in Pennsylvania.

Dunham also said “there is a difference between compliance and validity,” adding that adopting Wednesday’s resolution did not prevent the board from discussing the validity of the consent decree at a later date.

The resolution passed by a 19 to 8 vote with two members abstaining. All but one of the alumni-elected board members voted to reject it. After the meeting, trustee William Oldsey said the vote represents a “division” among board members. He says many people have “fallen into the false impression that all we do is argue about the consent decree and Freeh report,” which ignores how well the board works together on issues relating to student life and academics.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Penn State football player Franco Harris attended Wednesday’s meeting. Harris, who's emerged as a vocal critic of the board, says the meeting was “very revealing about the direction the university’s leadership has taken.”

“I would’ve like to have seen things put on hold,” Harris says. “This is too important to handle in the way that they handled it today.”

Oldsey also expressed frustration at Wednesday’s meeting, which featured echoing feedback and multiple trustees speaking at the same time over the phones.

“I would’ve liked to have the right amount of reasonable exchange and discourse, and to be well-informed ahead of time on what we’re voting on,” Oldsey said during the meeting. “We owe it to this university and everyone that is Penn State to show up for these kinds of meetings.”

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Michael Garrett is a freelance reporter who covers a wide range of assignments for StateCollege.com.
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