State House Sound Bites

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

For lawmakers, an interest in board reforms beyond Penn State

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 28, 2013 11:46 PM
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The makeup of the trustee boards at Pennsylvania's four state-related schools is in the crosshairs of several state lawmakers, and university presidents are already indicating some discomfort with proposed changes.

After the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, the composition of Penn State's board was the subject of scrutiny. Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report detailing problems and recommendations for changes to the board, saying it failed to take the reins in the thick of the scandal's fallout due to things like its president being a voting member of the board.

Wagner also suggested the other three state-related schools - Temple University, Lincoln University, and the University of Pittsburgh - could stand to shrink their board sizes.

But Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg told the state Senate Appropriations Committee in a recent hearing it's too facile a statement to suggest that simply thinning the number of trustees would improve board governance.

"I don't know how a small board could exercise proper oversight over an institution of the size of Penn State or Pitt Temple unless they were going to be full time board members, unless you had a sufficient size to spread the work around," said Nordenberg.

University presidents were more receptive to Wagner's leading recommendation that they not be voting members of their schools' boards. Rodney Erickson, Penn State's president, said he would be fine with such an arrangement.

"I think it's helpful for a president to sit in on board deliberations but I have never seen a situation where a president's vote would have made any difference in the outcome of some deliberation," said Erickson. The heads of the other three state-related universities agreed.

Penn State's trustees are already considering changes to the board and other proposed overhauls are the subject of legislation in the state House and Senate. Senate lawmakers said they'll look to apply such proposals to the other state-related schools in a mid-March hearing.

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