Some reflections on today’s Senate hearings (with thanks to others who have posted, and apologies that this is so long):
• We packed the hearing room, just as Anthony requested. Several mentions were made of this – Senators said they had never seen a full hearing room before! And this was the largest room they have.
• The Senators were well-informed and well-prepared. Their questions were fair and insightful. Sometimes detailed, sometimes big picture. One question was repeated several times: “Do you think that the failures with Penn State’s BOT were a result of structural problems, or personality problems?” They are trying to figure out how to address what went wrong. It was taken for granted that the BOT most definitely HAS failed.
• The Auditor General spoke fervently in support of many aspects of reform. And he said, “It would be a big mistake to leave the reforms up to the Penn State Board to do themselves.”
• Masser, Broadhurst, and Lubert testified for BOT. They did not respond intelligently to questions. They did not have good answers to why the Legal Committee did not think change in the size and composition of the Board was a priority. They had to acknowledge that the committee’s proposed changes may not be approved by the full Board.
• Senator Folmer asked BOT: “The alumni seem very angry. Why is that? What are you doing about it?” There was a very long pause. Then Broadhurst said, “That’s a good question,” clearly unprepared to answer. Said they wanted to move forward, had done their best but were criticized for it, decisions they had to make were difficult, they are trying to be responsive. It was a weak response and everyone in the room saw that. Lubert added info about public comment session at Board meeting, visitors invited to attend and comment at committee meetings, new website with info on progress.
• Dinniman was quite assertive in telling BOT that legislation would be required to change the Enabling Statute to accomplish some of the reforms. This apparently was news to the BOT.
• Senator Yudichak challenged BOT on process of engaging Freeh and the BOT’s failure to accept report. Challenged them on whether engagement of Freeh and use of Task Force were consistent with the Standing Orders. Said investigation was NOT independent because it was managed by Task Force.
• The BOT folks left after their turn, before Anthony Lubrano and Bob Horst spoke. Stephanie Deviney remained throughout. I thought it was a very insulting thing for them to leave Senate hearings before they were complete. It did not reflect well on them.
• Bob Horst’s testimony about how the BOT functioned in the 1990s was chilling. He describes a power-hungry cabal of insiders. Described Hintz as “the face of the power block.” Talked about Trusteeship as a reward for big donors.
• Anthony was articulate and persuasive. Senators were clearly sympathetic to his positions. Anthony spoke repeatedly about importance of engagement for all Trustees, suggested that reducing size of BOT would support better engagement. Criticized selection process for B&I Trustees as too insular, suggested instead that deans of all the colleges each put forward two candidates to be voted on by full BOT, a more open and inclusive process that would broaden the types of people who would serve. Spoke of his concerns about the new language where BOT could vote out a Trustee who spoke openly in disagreement of BOT decisions; Senators were openly critical of this new provision.
• Senator Folmer asked Anthony why alumni are unhappy. Anthony said most important thing was lack of fairness, no willingness to deal with that in an honest way. He said it may be too late to regain confidence of the alumni in the old BOT. Failure of leadership, political correctness motivated their actions. Anthony said we can separate fairness and due process versus protecting children – both can happen. He spoke movingly about the mission of our land grant university, where sons and daughters of farmers and coal miners have received excellent educations. We became an elite university without becoming elitist, because of Joe’s leadership.
• I spoke with Senator Corman after the hearings and he said they prefer for BOT to make changes internally but they are prepared to respond with legislation if needed. He noted that the problem with legislation is that they lose control of all the things that might get attached to a bill. We agreed that threat of legislation seems to be motivating BOT to make at least some reforms.
• Today went better than I ever could have imagined. These Senators see very clearly where the problems lie in the BOT and are committed to addressing it. Old BOT looks weak and cannot defend their actions. PSU alumni showed up in force. WE ARE on a roll!
• Thanks to everyone who helped get us all to the hearings, those who showed up, and those who sent good thoughts from afar. There is much work remaining to be done, but we have great momentum now.
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