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PSU Faculty Senate Rejects No-Confidence Statement Aimed at University Board

on January 24, 2012 5:31 PM

With a 128-58 vote, the Penn State Faculty Senate voted down Tuesday a proposed no-confidence statement on the university Board of Trustees.

Dissenters said the effort, had it passed, would have been judgmental and counterproductive.

"We all believe that Penn State is a world-class institution," said Jean Landa Pytel, a former Faculty Senate chairwoman and sitting member. "We need to act accordingly."

To that end, she went on, when problems arise, people in the institution should rally together to seek solutions in a "meaningful, constructive manner."

"Seeking revenge for actions which we may not agree with as individuals," Pytel said, would work against the best interests of both the university and the Faculty Senate itself. She said the university board is already well aware of the Faculty Senate's sentiments.

"If we vote for this (no-confidence measure), who will have confidence in us?" Pytel said, warning against a blame game.

She said a no-confidence vote would also cause outside bodies to lose confidence in Penn State.

In addition, Faculty Senate member Tramble Turner said, the trustees have reached out to the senate and conceded that "they could've handled things better."

Language in the no-confidence proposal, introduced by College of Medicine faculty member Anthony Ambrose, referred to the child sexual abuse allegedly committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. It asserted that Penn State's reputation, through those charges and related cover-up claims, "has been publicly and seriously defiled."

Sandusky, who has denied the allegations, is accused of having committed some of the offenses on Penn State property.

With that as background, the Ambrose proposal also included this language: "Inasmuch as the Board of Trustees is the corporate body established by the (university) charter with complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the university and all the interests pertaining thereto, and inasmuch as the Board of Trustees is the final repository of all legal responsibility and authority to govern the university, it must be held responsible.

"Consequently," the proposal went on, "it is moved that the Faculty Senate transmit to the Board of Trustees a vote of no confidence in its ability, as presently constituted, to perform its statutory duties."

Supporters of the measure included the group Penn State Alumni for the Reorganization of the Board of Trustees. It presented more than 2,000 signatures Tuesday in support of the no-confidence effort.

"The Board of Trustees did not anticipate the danger (that) Sandusky situation posed to Penn State, effectively deal with the media in addressing the issue, nor adequately inform the Penn State community and the public," the alumni group wrote online. "We believe this failure is symptomatic of the basic structure and functioning of the board."

Senators' decision on the no-confidence proposal was the second of two high-profile items at their regular meeting Tuesday, held in the Kern Building at University Park.

The first was a proposed call for a new, more independent committee and investigation into the trustees' oversight role at the university. Faculty Senate members voted that down, as well, along similar lines.

Some dissenters questioned of the wisdom of forming another investigation when roughly a half-dozen others -- including one by the U.S. Department of Education -- have already been launched at Penn State.

"I think we certainly have enough investigative committees right now," senate member Christian Brady, the honors-college dean, said in an interview.

He said trustees, administrators, faculty members and others at Penn State can -- and should -- work collaboratively to help define Penn State's ongoing and future priorities in a holistic sense. Land-grant universities, as a group, are facing fundamental questions over their future and collective identity, Brady said.

"There are lots of questions out there that the events of November (when criminal charges were filed) brought to the fore rather dramatically," he said. " ... I think we have a chance to be a real leader in higher education, especially among our land-grant peers.

"Why spoil that opportunity?" Brady went on. "Let's take advantage of that opportunity rather than trying to get one more (investigative) committee out here."

But supporters of the new-committee idea, including senate member Beverly Vandiver, questioned how the current special committee led by university trustees can be effective. That nine-member special committee, led by trustee Kenneth Frazier, includes six university trustees.

It has initiated an outside investigation -- led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh -- into the circumstances surrounding the alleged sexual abuse and cover-up at Penn State. Frazier has said that his committee has no desire to edit Freeh's findings, which are expected to yield policy and governance reforms at the university.

University President Rodney Erickson, too, said he has "been assured on multiple occasions that (Freeh's) report will be fully public with all of its findings."

Some Faculty Senate members, however, have been openly leery, questioning whether Freeh's report will be truly independent.

He is being paid by the university. And his report is expected to go to the trustees' special committee before it's made public.

"How does one independently investigate thyself?" Vandiver said Tuesday. She said an independent investigation that reflects appropriate research standards is needed.

Others, meanwhile, questioned whether the new-committee idea would have addressed all of the senate's interests. Those have included a review not only of board behavior, but also of administrative functioning, administrative structure and basic governing rules at Penn State.

Some senators tried to recommend that the trustees expand their special committee to include more non-Penn Staters. But the full senate couldn't find agreement on that, either.

Ultimately, senate members agreed to form a subcommittee that will review all the faculty-member comments made at the Tuesday meeting and develop new recommendations.

Had they passed, both the specific proposals that failed Tuesday would not have been binding measures. Rather, they would have been advisory-type actions geared toward the university board. The Faculty Senate represents faculty members as part of the Penn State shared-governance approach but has no direct authority over the Board of Trustees, the top governing body.

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