When President Barron sent out his now infamous "civility" email and video, both he and I agreed that civility and respect go hand in hand.
The recent decisions by Board chair Keith Masser to disallow public comment on Board reform demonstrated that President Barron's plea for civil discussion of issues has gone unheeded.
In addition, proposal A+ that was accepted by the governance committee (minus Anthony Lubrano) was nothing more than a power play to keep the "Old Guard Plus" (OGP) in control. It was quite a show of disrespect for the intelligence of PSU alumni for Richard Dandrea and the rest of the sponsors to think that alumni wouldn't immediately recognize this proposal for what it was.
Finally, President Barron's discussion with Barry Fenchak, the alumnus who was denied a chance to speak at the September 19th meeting, revealed that Barron has been co-opted by the OGP when he made a number of disingenuous statements in an attempt to justify the existence of the unaccountable members -- which happens to be the majority - of the Board.
Comments on Board Reform Unwelcome, SilencedBarry Fenchak has been working for over two years on his proposal for BOT reform. Along the way, he has met with a number of officials, including Senator Jake Corman, to discuss why the reforms are so badly needed. Given that Board reform was a topic of high interest inside and outside of Penn State, Fenchak requested to provide public comments about his proposal at the Friday, September 19th meeting. In fact, when he logged in to sign up on September 12th, he was too early and the web-site was not yet up. When it eventually came on line, he was the first to sign up.
On September 17th, he received a notification from Jeanie Andrews stating that "we are unable to accommodate your request" to speak at the meeting. Fenchak was incredulous that he wasn't chosen, given his topic AND that he was the first to sign up.
|Civility: Barry Fenchak denied opportunity|
to speak then forcibly removed from meeting
Even more incredibly, Barron told Fenchak that he could not speak because he had already had his chance. Fenchak, who had never spoken at a Board meeting, alerted Barron to that fact. To which Barron responded, you're written plenty of letters and emails over the past two years.
At the close of Friday's meeting when the last scheduled speaker finished, Fenchak approached the microphone stand to speak. The microphone had been removed, but he went on with his presentation, only to be cut off by Keith Masser and told that he could sign up for another time. Masser stated we are "moving on" as he moved to adjourn the meeting. He was then approached by a rather large individual who confronted him and apparently motioned for others to come and assist in the removal of Fenchak.
Fenchak also noted that it was very "uncivil" for many of the Board members to leave the meeting at the start of the public comment session. As you will see on the video, there are many empty chairs around the table and most are occupied by the alumni elected trustees.
Barron's Disingenuous Justifications for Unaccountable Board MembersAfter Fenchak had been denied the chance to speak at the meeting, he followed up with President Barron in a series of emails, one which specifically asked:
"Do you believe that the governance board of Penn State should be an accountable, democratically elected body......or do you support the current non-accountable unauthorized factional structure?"
Barron response stated that he would not answer the question because it presupposes only one answer (which of course, is the right answer).
However, Barron's disingenuous answers began shortly thereafter when he tried to justify the unaccountable, non-elected members (my emphasis added).
First, Barron stated: "We receive considerable state-support. A part of the accountability for receiving that support is to have board members appointed by the state if you are a public or public-related institution. This may be direct appointments by the Governor, or appointments by a Board of Regents (appointed by elected officials) or both. They expect accountability because universities operate partially on taxpayer dollars. This is the common practice. We are accountable to elected officials who are the distributor of taxpayer dollars.
Separating fact from fiction:
1. The Commonwealth provided $272 million of a $4.9 billion budget for 2013. That's only 5.6% -- hardly considerable. It's about the same amount of money that PSU got in donations (private gifts, grants, and contracts).
2. The only elected government official on the Board is Governor Tom Corbett, who has attended just one meeting during his tenure as governor.
Next, Barron attempted to justify the Business and Industry trustees. "Most boards dearly love to have business and industry representatives. They create connectivity, open doors, often donate significantly. They have wisdom from operating large institutions. Most are alumni and, as such, add even greater value. I know of no public or private institution that doesn’t work very hard to have business and industry leaders on their boards if state laws don’t get in the way.
Separating fact from fiction:
1. If the B&I trustees were so connected, one might expect that a considerable amount of PSU's research grants would come from industries represented by this group. That is not the case. PSU's 2013 OMB Circular A-133 audit of Federal grants reveals none of the companies associated with the B&I members among the grantees. Typically, private sector companies like Boeing, SAIC, Northrup Grumman, and many others provide research funding via "pass throughs" (see page 43 of the audit report).
The fact of the matter is our B&I trustees are mostly in banking, investing, and finance -- which provide little in the way of grants.
2. Those of us who have been watching since 11-9-11 are hard pressed to see any wisdom coming from the direction of the B&I trustees. Consider that almost every benchmarking activity related to Board reform showed that PSU's Board was exceptionally large and that a smaller Board would be more in line with other Universities. Yet, Richard Dandrea and others offered AND PASSED a proposal to increase the size of the board. This brought more negative comments from Senator Yudichak, who went as far as to state that the BOT's attempt to change the structure of the Board may be illegal.
Barron closed with another false statement about PSU's funding: "We also have to remember that this institution operates almost solely on dollars from students and the taxpayer."
Separating fact from fiction:
1. Less than half of the University's revenues are from tuition and the state appropriation
About $1.82B of $4.9B (37%) is from those sources and -- the state appropriation is rather minuscule at $272 million.
2. The "institution's" other major sources of revenues include Hershey Medical center at $1.3B (28%), government and other grants about $620M (12%), and the rest are cats and dogs, none contributing more than 8%.
It is very hard to give President Barron the benefit of the doubt at this point, given that he has been in place since May and seems to be of the mindset that he can "snow" the alumni about the operations of PSU.
On September 19th, over 1500 alumni signed a letter, which was run as a 2 1/2 page ad in the Centre Daily Times asking President Barron to bring Louis Freeh back to campus for a civil discussion of the Freeh Report.
To date, the authors of the letter (Eileen Morgan and I) have not received a response.
It appears that when it comes to having a meaningful and civil discussion on the issues, President Barron has opted to stand with the OGP and shut out those who disagree with the University's positions.