Recapping the Controversial Board of Trustees Meeting: Freeh Report, Governance, and Comment Session Dominate
By Ryan Beckler (from OnwardState)
Before the board meeting began, the Paternos and Dick Thornburgh offered their thoughts of Thursday’s comments from trustee Ken Frazier.
The Penn State Board of Trustees met at the Hershey Medical Center on Friday to discuss a laundry list of items including, you guessed it, the Freeh report.
After Keith Masser called the meeting to order, Rodney Erickson delivered his opening remarks. He offered thanks to all students who participated in another record-breaking THON this year. Erickson also mentioned the sequester and the consequences it could have for Penn State, namely the Work Study Program. While he said he wasn’t sure of how much the University would be hurt as a result of the sequester, Erickson believes it will be in the $30-$40 million range, with the College of Medicine and the Applied Research Lab sharing a good bit of the impact.
Erickson said that applications to Penn State are down 9 percent compared to last year, but the number of students who have committed remains on par with previous years. Overall, the quantity and quality of students coming to Penn State in the fall are “virtually identical,” according to Erickson.
Erickson also recognized a plethora of student athletes for their achievements, mentioning that eight Penn State teams were ranked in the top 10 nationally in their respective sports and wishing “good luck” to the wrestling team who heads to Iowa City for the NCAA Championships next week.
After Erickson’s remarks, Anthony Lubrano voiced his concern that the costs relating to the Freeh report and the implementation of its recommendations would cause tuition rates to rise. Erickson assured those on hand the money did not come from general funds, but rather interest funds the University received.
After an informational presentation from Dean of College of Medicine Harold Paz, reports from the six standing committees followed.
Chair of Academic Affairs and Student Life Marianne Alexander commended the ever-expanding study abroad program at Penn State and commented on the successful scaling back of State Patty’s Day. “This was not an interesting place for those who were seeking a big party,” she said after noting all of the provisions taken to deter visitors on State Patty’s. Student trustee Peter Khoury added “[State Patty’s Day] is very disruptive to our image to our university” and pointed out that arrests and citations were down from past years.
The Committee on Finance, Business, and Capital Planning was next to present. Gail Hurley gave a report on student housing and pointed out that on-campus options are struggling to keep up with the off-campus market.
The rest of the committees introduced several proposals, all of which were later passed. The main items included a 4.2 percent increase in room and board for the 2013-2014 academic year and the construction of a children’s garden at the Arboretum.
One of the last to present was Jim Broadhurst, chair of the Committee on Governance and Long Range Planning. He discussed the possibility of making the Penn State president and the Pennsylvania governor non-members of the board. He said he believes “it is not the right time” to downsize the board, citing the larger boards at other state-related schools such and Temple and Lincoln. Broadhurst would later read a letter from Governor Tom Corbett that read, “I believe it is time to make the governor’s role at Penn State a non-voting ex-offico member.”
The proposal that would make the Penn State President and Pennsylvania Governor non-voting members of the Penn State Board of Trustees is expected to be voted on in May.
After Broadhurst finished his presentation, Lubrano chimed in with a question asking if Governance Committee ever considered conducting background checks on future trustees since Penn State employees must go through the same procedure. “If we’re going to apply that standard to our University employees, I think we should apply it ourselves, Lubrano said.” As part of a long-winded response Broadhurst said that the topic “has not yet been brought up for discussion yet.” Lubrano wanted more. He pushed for a more concrete answer, but Broadhurst failed to deliver one. Broadhurst and Lubrano will testify before the state senate on Monday about future reforms of the board.
Lubrano also offered comment on a proposed rule change that would allow the board to essentially vote off a member who breaches his or her fiduciary duty or does not meet the expectations of board membership. The rule change would also discourage board members from “publicly criticizing” any of the board’s actions.
“I understand, as some people call it, ‘The Lubrano Rule’ is being contemplated in these changes and, as I said, I think all trustees should be held to the highest standards, but i think you need to be really careful about limiting speech,” he said.
Those matters will be discussed and possibly voted on at the May meeting.
Trustee Keith Eckel then called on Ken Frazier to discuss the Freeh report. To open his remarks, Ken Frazier apologized for his remarks Thursday to Board of Trustees candidate Bill Cluck by saying “I employed an analogy that was unhelpful. Absolutely no offense was intended. I apologize.” In that heated exchange Frazier made what some people considered to be an inappropriate comment.
Frazier noted that he reviewed several proposals before he hired Freeh, Sullivan, and Sporkin to compile an investigative report. He said that it was not within Freeh’s “scope” to investigate The Second Mile, the Department of Public Welfare, Child Youth Services, or any other person or program outside of the university. Frazier also said the fact that Freeh couldn’t interview several key players was “well known from the outset.” He also pointed out that the board has “never voted to accept the Freeh report.”
In the second part of his statement, Frazier denounced the Paterno report, saying it is far from an independent investigation.
“Because of its limited scope and intent, it does not provide a full or complete description of a historical record and it does not even comment on the recommendations in the Freeh report. As such, it provides little help to the university and decision makers going forward…Because it doesn’t even evaluate the conduct of individuals or many of the subjects addressed in the Freeh report other than with respect to Coach Paterno, it simply does not address any of the findings or documents in the Freeh report. The facts are the facts — and the contemporaneous emails and other documentation are among the most important evidence produced,” he said.
“We cannot put heads in the sand and pretend that children were not hurt or that the documents do not exist…When it comes to child sexual abuse, we, the adults in this community and every other community, must prevent the preventable. In order to do so, we must report the reportable. It is that simple and straightforward,” Frazier said.
“It is crystal clear that the board cannot and should not re-investigate the Freeh investigation. Any attempt to try and rewrite history will be damaging to Penn State’s effort to move past this horrible tragedy,” he continued.
As expected, Lubrano didn’t take too kindly to Frazier’s statement. He read Thornburgh’s statement on Frazier’s comments — released about three hours prior — to the board. He also lauded Jim Clemente’s portion of the Paterno report and requested that the board invite Louis Freeh to campus to discuss his $8.1 million report.
“The one area we don’t focus much on is education, which is ironic given that this is an institution of higher learning. So what I would suggest to the board to take Louis Freeh up on his offer where he said in his July 12, 2012 press conference that he would come and meet with the students and the faculty and others to answer questions at the appropriate time. Well, it seems to me that this is a very appropriate time,” he said.
“Now I understand your point, Ken, that you don’t want to rewrite history. But I’m not sure the history is correct…This isn’t grandstanding. This is a serious matter. This is a very, very serious matter. Like the rest of you, I love this institution…I want to move forward. Absolutely, positively I want to move forward. But I can’t, in good conscience, move forward at this time. It’s just not possible for me,” Lubrano said.
Frazier responded, standing his ground on the Freeh report’s merits.
“One report says that four people knew of an event that occurred in the shower in 2001 and did not report it to the Child Welfare Agency or law enforcement and another report says with respect to person A, there’s no evidence that person A was a part of an active agreement to conceal. The two reports don’t join issues. They are not rebuttals,” he said.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Paterno report may be of use to people who are interested in focusing on the particular role of Coach Paterno and I want to say that Coach Paterno lived an exemplary life. [The Freeh report], from my standpoint, was not something that was intended to judge Joe Paterno,” Frazier said as the crowd snickered. “It was intended to shed light on what happened and I believe it has shed considerable light on what happened, because [the report deals in facts],” he said.
The usually reserved Adam Taliaferro backed up Lubrano.
“We all know what the ‘what’ is. We know there’s the Freeh report and the Paterno report. At the appropriate time, I do think bringing in [Freeh and Thornburgh] and asking the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ would help us, I think, move forward… I think it’d better help me understand both sides,” Taliaferro said.
Trustee Alvin Clemens chimed in, outlining the disconnect in recent months between the board and alumni.
“The problem here is that there’s a big divide between the alumni and the board. We all won’t be on board until we somehow smoke this out. And it leads from things like the NCAA. They base everything off of 1998. Emmert says ‘ya know, if Penn State would’ve done something in 98’, well Penn State wasn’t involved in 1998. The police were involved, the Department of Welfare was involved… Why didn’t Child Youth Services monitor this thing? Those are just some of the questions I have,” Clemens said.
After Ken Frazier cited certain documents in the Freeh report for about a minute or so, Lubrano began to respond, but Eckel abruptly called on Jim Broadhurst who wished to speak. Much to the anger of those in the public, Broadhurst said “I think it’s an appropriate time time to close off the report and move on to the next report.” Eckel agreed, saying “That’s absolutely where I am.”
During and after the Freeh report discussion, Jay and Scott Paterno shared their thoughts on Twitter. After months of digital silence, the two brothers are slowly becoming more and more outspoken about the topic. Yesterday, Scott tweeted “We waited for our team do a comprehensive reply. We believe in our team. So when someone questions their integrity…”
Finally, it was time for the infamous public comment session, which usually is filled with alumni criticism toward the board. Of the ten alumni that spoke yesterday, five played football under Joe Paterno and as usual the Freeh report and the NCAA sanctions were the main topics of discussion.
I pulled the most poignant statements from each comment. (** indicates a commenter who played football under Joe Paterno. All lettermen in attendance wore stickers that read “Member of the GRAND EXPERIMENT”)
Commenter #1 – Matthew Langdon
“I have some personal aspirations to be a Board Member and I think limiting the number of seats makes it much more difficult for alumni like myself to seek those goals. I think Penn State is such a broad and diverse university it’s essential to have leadership covering many aspects of the Penn State community I think keeping the number around 30 allows us to do that.
“Maybe with all of the good reports from Senator Mitchell and the continued progress this Leadership Team can use that to their advantage to seek a reduction in the severity. I think maybe that would be prudent and a major win in the eyes of this group so thanks for your time.”
Commenter #2 – Tom Donchez **
“It has been 16 months and we are no farther ahead today than we were the night you fired Joe Paterno. The students and alumni of this great university have fractured from the Board of Trustees along the questions of fairness, truth, and trust. In your first actions you chose to make this about Joe. And the other high ranking employees. You chose from the beginning to think the worst of them
“I’m here to tell you something you already know. That growing number of alumni of this great university, growing numbers of the informed public and men of the grand experiment will not move forward just because Freeh says this is how it was. He got much wrong.”
Commenter #3 – Mickey Shuler **
“I’m concerned with the direction the university leadership is taking in an effort to redefine and change the perceptions of the cultural at Penn State due to the Freeh report and the NCAA sanctions. I feel Penn State’s interests are being placed second to politically correct corporate interests or hidden agendas — something I believe has happened over the past 16 months. I’m offended by this for several reasons. One of them being because the board paid and accepted the incomplete Free report as truth. This report not only allege to cover up — allege a coverup by the university officials who dedicated their lives to Penn State but it also constructed a motive for it by creating a false image it called our cultural reverence for football.
“As a result, the door opened for the unprecedented and inappropriate sanctions the NCAA placed on Penn State. The result of these sanctions are a tremendous disservice to all students, athletes, alumni and Pennsylvanians being held accountable for something they didn’t do and long-term effects from these sanctions have the power to forever change the true nature of Penn State. My concern is why our leadership chose not to defend this great university addressing and implementing recommendations from the Freeh report. Regarding the areas that need improvement is one thing but accepting the NCAA sanctions to save public face so we can quickly distance ourselves from the situation helps no one.
“The culture of Penn State is that I know would lead by example. Stand up to the NCAA and ask for these sanctions to be removed because of the incomplete investigation by the Freeh group and in light of a new conclusions based on the Paterno report.”
Commenter #4 – Rob Leiby
“Now is the time to move forward. I don’t envy the Board of Trustees today. You’ve had a lot of stuff dealt to you and I think we need to just move forward. I don’t think it serves a purpose to drag university leadership through the mud. And I think that’s what’s taking place. It pains me to hear continued criticism of Penn State’s Board of Trustees. I know at least half a dozen of you in this room and for those of you who don’t I know they have done — they are here because they are excellent leaders, they are excellent managers, they build outstanding businesses.”
Commenter #5 – Mark Battaglia **
“Sadly, to date, there’s only one man who has admitted that with the benefit of hindsight that he wished he would have done more. You see Joe Paterno held us to a higher standard as players. In the classroom, in our lives, on the football field. And we’re here today to hold you, the Board, to a higher standard. More specifically, those who have already been held to a higher standard because they played for Joe Paterno or they had brothers or nephews who played for Joe Paterno. They knew Joe Paterno like we knew Joe Paterno.
“In the huddle, when the game is on the line, they looked in his eyes, they saw the man, they knew the man. And yet, they wouldn’t take his call. They wouldn’t make a call. They sat around silently. Worse yet, maybe they led the effort to fire Joe. Why? Was it personal? Did they let a personal issue lead to a potentially $100 million debacle?
“Joe always said ‘you’re never as good as you think you are when you win and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose.’ Good news here is that we are losing, we didn’t lose, but we are losing the battle. We need to change the strategy. We need the leadership from those very people who played for Joe to lead us out of this thing by changing. Paint yourself in the corner with this Freeh report. I’m sorry Mr. Frazier… This ‘move on’ thing is not happening. The alumni are not buying it. So Joe said ‘you have to believe in your heart that you are destined to do great things.’ You can do that. There’s still time. There are 500,000 alumni out there hoping and praying that you accept the challenge.”
Commenter #6 – Philip LaPorta **
“Your decisions since November 2011 have been wreaking havoc and brought disparagement upon Coach Paterno the Paterno family, the football program, the football coaches, the university, and the alumni. As leaders of Penn State, you have the obligation to set a moral standard that is exhibited in sound judgement, kindness, and humility. It is evident by the things that you have said and the things that you have failed to say regarding the Freeh report, your moral failure is cataclysmic. Your failure in leadership is inexcusable.
“In closing, Coach Paterno was fired for a failure of leadership. If that’s an offense worth firing a man who led this university morally, academically in giving, and in the field of athletics with the men of grand experiment for over 50 years, where does that leave you in your failure of leadership? And oh, by the way, if there’s a black hole, we better get into it and we better find the rat that’s down the hole because there is nothing else that we need to do than get to the bottom of this and be open and transparent and if we can’t do that, we shouldn’t be a university. Thank you very much.”
Commenter #7 – Daniel Wallace **
“My topic is Board structure. And earlier today, I heard the conversations about the auditor general’s recommendations. And I encourage you to implement those Board structures as soon as possible — the removal of the university president as a voting member, make the governor a non-voting member, and reduce the size of the Board and it’s voting members. In addition I suggest that there be more trustee elected from the alumni base rather than being appointed by the governor in and its various constituencies.
“The size of the Board is too large and cumbersome and unresponsive. I believe this factor led to the mismanagement of the actions taken in November of 2011. Regarding the dismissal of Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, a smaller more cohesive more communicative board would have never made the horrific decisions that were made that day.”
Commenter #8 – Jason Kramer
“I’m here to say that I think it’s time to move forward. I know with all due respect to the gentlemen behind me that have already spoken and to some members of the Board the alumni I’m talking to are all saying the same thing. It’s 16 months down the road from what happened and we need to come together as a group. We’ve got this great marketing campaign for sports teams — one team. And there’s nobody in this room today that can say that we are one team. And I believe it’s all of our responsibilities to be able to band together as that one team and start to move forward.”
Commenter #9 – Johan Zwart
“I’m an engineer and own a company in state college that manufacturers test equipment for aircraft jet engines.”
“You are in the same position as Ball State why not make the right decision and establish Penn State University as the home of the country’s largest geothermal system.”
Commenter #10 – Tara May
“I believe it is important for our university to move forward to the future so the next generation of Penn Staters enjoys the same sense of pride and community that I have been blessed to experience.”
“We must move forward with the refreshed sense of pride and unity to raise the standard of educational excellence and civic responsibility which are inherent to our school for both existing and future students. Strong leadership has been needed to move us forward.”
“I look forward to moving forward with you as we build for the future.”
This was, by far, the most tense board meeting in recent memory. Lubrano stuck to his word and proposed that the board invite Louis Freeh to Penn State to discuss his report. We’ll see if that happens. The discussion and ruling on the now-called “Lubrano Rule” at May’s meeting should also be something to watch, as it would basically prohibit individual members from speaking out against the board and its past and future decisions.
image Dave Cole