On 9/11/2001 two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and changed our view of the world. On 11/9/2011, the PSU BOT crashed our University and changed our view on what it takes to be a trustee.
There has been much wrangling about the topic of "negative" campaigning regarding the upcoming BOT elections.
Some believe that those who point out the records of the incumbent trustees are engaging in negative campaigning and feel that it is unbecoming. Never in PSU's history have candidates engaged in such practices. In the past, candidates each wrote a summary of their accomplishments and/or qualifications and it was put on brochures, videos, or whatever media to encourage people to vote. If you were popular or famous -- perhaps a former, well known football player - you were a shoo in.
No one really cared.
For fifty years, the BOT members essentially showed up four times a year for meetings, got a nice meal or two, got some complimentary tickets to sporting events, and rubber stamped whatever the president put in front of them.
Then came 11/9/2011. The moment of truth.
When the PSU BOT was faced with a critical decision that required thoughtfulness and thoroughness, they failed. And failed badly.
And the alumni took notice.
Many of us asked, how could our BOT, that has lawyers within its ranks, make one of the most important decisions it would ever make based on a 23 page grand jury presentment.
You don't have to be a lawyer to know that a grand jury presentment is a one-sided prosecutorial document. All you need to know that is "google."
Typically, a grand jury investigation will extend through several months. When the prosecutor has no further evidence to put before the grand jury, the jurors are asked to consider a presentment recommending that specific persons be charged with specific crimes. After considering this request in closed deliberations, the grand jury may ask to hear more evidence or may question the addition or exclusion of certain persons from the list of persons against whom charges are to be recommended. If the grand jury agrees to consider a presentment, prosecutors prepare a draft document which summarizes the evidence the grand jury has heard and sets out specific, recommended charges. The grand jury considers this document in secret proceedings. If twelve or more of the 23 permanent grand jurors agree, the presentment is "returned" and submitted to the supervising judge for his approval. After the judge's review, the presentment is typically sealed until the prosecutor is ready to bring the recommended charges. At that point, the grand jury's work on this investigation is finished; however, the potential defendant's days in the legal system are just beginning.
When BOT Co-chair John Surma was asked what the board used in its deliberations on the firing of Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, he responded:
The board deliberative process is, as it implies, a process that requires some time. There was information that we sought, although we don't know anything more about the actual details than the grand jury report and whatever you all write.
So, there you have it. The BOT members from 11/9/11 read the grand jury presentment and press reports and that was good enough for them to make a decision.
No review of the child abuse reporting law.
No interviews of Spanier, Curley, Schultz, Paterno, or McQueary.
No advice from the PSU legal counsel, Cynthia Baldwin.
No request to bring in experienced criminal counsel for advice.
Surma's reasoning, if you could call it that, was that the BOT had decided to remove Paterno and Spanier because it was in the best "long-term interest" of the University. Beyond that, he didn't have many answers.
John Surma is not incompetent. He is the CEO of US Steel.
I could not imagine John Surma, after receiving a report from the EPA, stating that US Steel was polluting at an unacceptable level, just rolling over for the EPA. I could not imagine John Surma, turning to the corporate board of US Steel, and saying "This EPA report is really damaging and will cost us millions in fines and millions to retrofit our factories, but, gee, this report made it into the newspapers, so I guess we'll just have to go along with it."
Had Surma done that he would have been fired as CEO of US Steel on the spot. Perhaps, the US Steel board members would have recommended he be committed for psychiatric care. Because any C-level administrator who would make such a rash decision on an initial report of anything would lose all credibility.
And that's were we are today at Penn State.
The actions of our BOT members on 11/9/11 defied common sense and logic. Those who sat on the BOT that night have lost all credibility with the (sane) alumni.
And those who sat on the BOT on 11/9/11 and are running for re-election are disconnected from reality.
They do not understand that 11/9 was the BOT's 9/11.
Penn State's world has changed.