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Trustee Governance Committee Debates Role of Emeriti Members

by on May 07, 2015 4:45 PM

The Governance and Long-Range Planning Committee of the Penn State Board of Trustees has, on occasion, been the scene of fierce debates.

At the committee’s Thursday meeting, there was some disagreement about the ideal role of emeriti trustees, but things remained fairly calm.

Any tension left over from a group of trustees suing the university on Monday for information they could reportedly already access did not bleed into the committee’s conversations.

The 24 current emeriti trustees are former members of the board who have been conferred with the mostly-honorary emeriti title. The exact role these people play on the board of trustees has been a subject of debate since the board met in March. 

Governance committee chairman Keith Eckel shared a list of proposed guidelines for emeriti trustees: they must serve on the board for at least six years with distinction; the selection criteria will include their attendance record and participation in university events; the emeriti status will expire after six years; and they can not attend executive sessions or privileged legal discussions.

The ability for emeriti trustees to access privileged documents and information was a source of contention, especially among the emeriti trustees in the room.

Attorney and emeriti trustee Jesse Arnelle wondered if it might be smarter to allow emeriti trustees to join privileged conversations if their particular expertise could benefit the university. He says the entire reason Penn State has emeriti trustees is to benefit from their experience and knowledge.

Penn State General Counsel Steve Dunham pointed out that it becomes more difficult to justify the use of attorney-client privilege as more people join the conversation. He said that Penn State “gets challenged on attorney-client privilege every day of the week.”

“What concerns me is this need for regulations and timeframes,” said emeriti trustee Boyd Wolff. “I felt, when I was elected an emeritus trustee, that it was for life. If I ever have some way I can contribute to this university, I will.”

Alumni-elected trustee Barbara Doran also led a debate about how to shape the future of the board.

Doran said she felt the board needs a new committee dedicated to identifying the needs of the board and finding potential future trustees with skill sets that fit those needs. That would ensure consistency and diversity on the board, which she feels has a fairly high turnover rate.

Trustee Rick Dandrea agreed with the basic idea, but questioned whether that was a role that could be filled by the existing governance committee. He said certain language in the committee’s charter already suggests the governance committee should take on the responsibility. 

Eckel said both of these conversations will come up again in July, after the board’s newest members are announced and confirmed by the full board on Friday.

 

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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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