PSU trustees promise never again
DUNMORE - On another day, the buzz surrounding Penn State's board of trustees meeting would have been about the approval of the university's smallest tuition increase in more than four decades.
But not this day.
With the condemnations contained in the former FBI Director Louis Freeh's report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal still achingly fresh, the trustees on Friday accepted responsibility for their oversight failures and vowed immediate steps to implement the reforms and changes the report recommended.
Board chairwoman Karen Peetz said the trustees, in cooperation with the administration of Penn State President Rodney A. Erickson, Ph.D., will take every action necessary to ensure "a collapse of this magnitude never happens again."
"The board takes these recommendations seriously, and they will result in changes, beginning here and beginning today. â¦ Overall, we are committed to a more active, structured and robust oversight role," she said.
One of the first steps will be greater transparency and accountability.
With media from around the state and nation watching at the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus, the board voted without dissension to amend its rules to allow the public to speak at its meetings, reserving 30 minutes for comments and questions. Previously, members of the public could observe but not participate.
There will be restrictions: Individuals wishing to address the board must register at least 48 hours in advance. A maximum of 10 speakers will be scheduled for each meeting, and each speaker will be permitted only three minutes.
Board member James Broadhurst, chairman of the committee that recommended the change, said if the number of requests to speak exceed the time available, requests will be approved on a first-come basis. Preference will be given to subjects that pertain to that meeting's agenda.
"This is going to be a little bit trial and error in the beginning, particularly in the process of determining who gets to speak and who doesn't because that will be very sensitive," he said.
In another immediate change, the board voted to reduce term limits for elected members from 15 years to 12 years. The provision is effective for board members whose terms begin on or after July 31, 2013.
Broadhurst said his committee considered limiting terms to nine years. However, that was rejected because it would have resulted in a 40 to 50 percent turnover in board membership every three years, which would have disrupted continuity, he said.
Released Thursday, the Freeh report concluded top officials at Penn State, including late football coach Joe Paterno and former President Graham Spanier, concealed information about Sandusky's predatory activities involving young boys from authorities and the public.
The 267-page report came down hard on the board of trustees, saying its governance shortcomings enabled Sandusky to continue to abuse children on campus. It recommended 119 policy changes.
Dr. Erickson, who has appointed a three-member administrative team to help coordinate and implement operational changes, said the university is committed to addressing its failures.
"We realize that we are still in the beginning of this process and we have many challenges ahead," he said.
Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman of the board's special investigative task force, gave the trustees what he said he hoped would be his group's last report.
With the release of the Freeh report, the board delivered on the promise it made in November to the university community and the broader public that there would be a "no-hold-barred, comprehensive, independent investigation" into what a jury last month determined were Sandusky's crimes against children.
"At that time, we heard the concerns of many observers that this would be a whitewash, that this would not be an honest appraisal of what happened in this university," he said. "I think with the publication of the Freeh report those concerns should be allayed by now."
He said the report demonstrates the university values "the search for the truth and is willing to engage in painful and critical third-party criticism, as well as self-examination."
Peetz said she has directed the board's various committees to review the sections of the report that apply to their specific areas of responsibility. She said she expects the committees to provide preliminary responses and action plans at the board's meeting in September.
"Today is a time for accepting accountability for those missteps and committing to move forward under the highest mantle of integrity and responsibility," she said.
The board's response to the Freeh report overshadowed its other actions at Friday's marathon meeting, which lasted nearly four hour. Those included the adoption of a $4.26 billion operating budget and setting tuition levels for 2012-2013.
The board approved an average tuition increase of 2.4 percent for undergraduate students. The school said it is the lowest tuition increase since 1967 and one of the lowest among public universities in the nation this year.
"We were guided by several priorities in assembling this (budget) plan," Dr. Erickson told the trustees. "Chief among those priorities was to keep tuition increases at the lowest possible levels."
Tuition for in-state students at the main campus at University Park will increase 2.9 percent, while non-residents will see a 2.4 percent increase. Tuition for both resident and non-resident undergraduates at Worthington Scranton and other Commonwealth Campus locations will rise 1.9 percent.
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