State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

A matter of size: Auditor General has critical words for university boards

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 25, 2012 10:45 PM

The four state-related schools, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars in commonwealth funding, have recently come under fire for the size of their boards of trustees. A report by the state’s outgoing Auditor General has questioned the need for the 32-member board at Penn State.

Jack Wagner’s study was released as a follow-up to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. He said the case showed that it’s too difficult to keep so many trustees informed in a fast-moving crisis, and that the board’s size makes PSU an outlier among the nation’s largest public universities. But the state’s fiscal watchdog didn’t stop with the trustees at Happy Valley.

“Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln all have boards even larger than Penn State,” he said. “And that’s an issue I believe for study going forward.” Wagner added that the trustee boards at those schools exceed the size suggested by various academic associations.

“The consensus among experts in academic governance is that the optimal size for a board of trustees is fewer, and I repeat, fewer than 20 members,” said Wagner.

Lincoln University’s board has 39 voting members, the same number as Temple University’s board, which includes three non-voting members. A Temple University spokesman says board size is a sensitive issue, particularly among board members, but he did not address Wagner’s recommendation. The University of Pittsburgh’s board has 40 members, of whom four are nonvoting. Pitt also did not return a request for comment. Lincoln University was closed the week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

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