Faculty, Student and Alumni Groups Make Case for Permanent Spot on Penn State Trustees Board
Representatives of faculty, student and alumni groups spoke before a Penn State Board of Trustees committee Thursday arguing each group should have permanent positions on the board.
Those groups addressed their concerns during the board's governance committee meeting at the Penn State Schuylkill campus in Schuylkill Haven.
Kay Salvino, president of the Penn State Alumni Association, says a board member representing the organization is essential.
"Because of our thorough understanding of the university, because of our 144-year record of steadfast service to Penn State and to our alumni, and because of our central focus on the welfare of our great university we believe we merit a permanent seat on the Board of Trustees so that we can help guide our alma mater to unprecedented heights as a Top 50 global university in the years to come," says Salvino.
Board member Dave Jones says he does not support the concept of an association representative as the board already included nine members elected by alumni.
"I think that's really full, if not too full representation of alumni," Jones says. "So I don't see that this would do anything for us. ... I think we have a system now that gives us ample opportunity."
Board member Barbara Doran also questioned whether an association member would be appropriate as the association includes full-time staff paid by the university.
Under Salvino's proposal, the immediate former president of the association would serve as the board member. The president is a volunteer position and not paid by the university, Salvino says. Additionally, she says the group raises 75 percent of its own funds.
John Nichols, a communications professor who previously chaired the committee on university governance, says the committee's research indicated a faculty member would enhance the board. As a comparison, he notes that medical professionals serve on the board of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
"It is good governance, and that should be the bottom line. Including internal academic trustees would improve the governance for this university," says Nichols.
Some board members questioned whether faculty presence on the board would be appropriate as they are also paid employees of the university.
Currently, the governor recommends a student representative to the board, which the state Senate must approve. Students Emily McDonald and Anand Ganjam, representing student government groups, say students should elect their board representative.
"We deserve a vote and a voice," says McDonald. "It's crucial that a student trustee is selected by the students so that trustee is held responsible."
Ganjam says students would follow a committee selection process to nominate a student to the board, who the board would then approve – eliminating the governor's role in the nomination.
"Everything on your agenda impacts students right now that's why it's so important for us to have a voice," Ganjam told the committee."
Board member Richard Dandrea, who chaired Thursday's meeting, says the concept of permanent student representation by student election and board approval is a favorable concept. Board Chairman Keith Masser agreed, saying that removal of the political component would be positive. Masser says Gov. Tom Corbett is supportive of the proposed change.
However, board member Anthony Lubrano says it's critical to be sure the board can alter the way a student is appointed without approval by the General Assembly.
State lawmakers are already attempting to pass legislation that would alter the make-up of the board. Last month, the Senate's State Government Committee voted 11-to-0 for Senate Bill 1240, the Penn State University Board of Trustees Reorganization Act.
The bill would reduce the board from 30 voting members to 23 as of Jan. 1 with eight elected by alumni, five appointed by the governor and approved by the senate, five representing the agriculture industry, and five representing business and industry.
Additionally, the bill removes the governor, president of the university and secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources from the board as of Jan. 1 and gives the General Assembly sole authority to determine the composition of the board.
The legislation would also make agriculture and education secretaries non-voting members and prohibit all state row officers, such as treasurer or auditor general, from serving on the board.
The bill also requires the establishment of a five-member selection committee to review and recommend to the full board appointments to the board.
Under the bill, a term for elected board members would last three years. Board members serving when the act goes into effect may finish the term for which they were appointed or elected.
The committee did not take any action on the issue.
The full board meets Friday to vote on several issues, including a tuition increase and 2014-2015 budget. The finance committee recommended to the full board Thursday an overall tuition increase for the entire university will be about 2.73 percent. The committee also approved a 4.6 billion annual budget for 2014-2015.