Sunday, March 10

11/9 is the BOT's 9/11

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.

Ray Blehar

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.


  1. great work as always, Ray! There is a non-hypothetical example I always turn to: Ken Frazier and Vioxx. No need to go into detail here, use that "google" thing Stephanie Deviney doesn't know exists. The short of it is that Merck was sued and LOST to plaintiffs who had family members die from side effects of the drug Vioxx. Side effects Merck was aware of, and continued to market the product with misleading campaigns. And a ton of $$$. And he is now the poster child for our conscience at Penn State? Laughable if it weren't so sad.

    These titans of industry need to go. Quietly, loudly, doesn't matter. They failed miserably and their continued hubris offends any caring student, professor, and alumnus.

  2. An astute and spot-on analogy Ray. John Surma is detestable Thanks again for all you do.

  3. I very much admire your work, Ray. But here's the problem: child sexual abuse is like no other crime in the universe. People get extremely emotional and upset about it, even though it's a much more common crime in this country than anyone is willing to admit. I just don't think it's an effective argument to compare it with environmental protection laws. It diminishes the strength of your arguments, which are fundamentally the lack of due process and the rush to judgment without considering all sides of this complicated case. But best wishes to you in continuing the good fight.

    1. Carolyn,
      Thanks for your comment, however, as professional people, they should be able to take a step back and treat the situation in the same manner as they would any other allegation against a company. That's why they are called "trustees" (trusted advisors). They should not react emotionally to the situation, but take it as they would any other negative news or crime affecting the organization. Someone needed to stand up and say, "I understand this is upsetting, but we need to focus on the law as it effects Penn State University."

    2. Agendas usually influence decisions. Reference the Freeh Report.

  4. On 9/11 I was enjoying a pricey Starbucks in the Pentagon courtyard while contemplating the images of NYC I'd just witnessed on the Asst SECDEF's bigscreen, when my world I can appreciate your analogy to the significance of the issues we still face. The events of 9/11 and 11/9 both appear well planned. The sooner that possibility enters the discussion the more we will begin to approach the truth, not withstanding Ms Deviney's Google dexterity in staying informed.

  5. I just skimmed thru the Penn State portion of Lanny Davis' new book : "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life"

    I want to piggyback on Ray stating that the BOT did not seek the advice of competent criminal counsel, nor did they immerse themselves in PA child abuse reporting law, rather Cynthia Baldwin consults Lanny Davis to give advice to Erickson. Then Steve Garban gets on the horn to Lanny asking him to help with the downward spiral of negative media attention.

    Since the "mistakenly" uploaded GJP on the state website Nov. 5th, 2011 thru Freeh's grandstanding presser July 12, 2012 the Penn State Community has been treated to spin, innuendo, leaks, mis-statements & a complete dearth of facts and detailed answers by this BoT.

    Lanny states the "ultimate crisis management goal" is to put the bad story behind them and to hit the "reset" button.

    We all know how well this is working out now, don't we? Still no closer to the truth on how our county & state system placed kids in a (now convicted) child molesters' home and his state licensed childrens charity.

    1. I haven't read Lanny's horsecrap book, however, I considered using the term "reset" in this article, but decided against it because Hillary Clinton used it as a talking point regarding U.S. relations with Russia. Her "reset" has been an unmitigated disaster, as has been the rest of the foreign policy decisions since she took the oath as Sec of State.

      Here we are 14 months later and the Sandusky Scandal is not going away. Not until the truth comes out.

      But one good thing has happened. Lanny Davis is no longer hanging around PSU giving bad advice.

  6. Ironic the trustees start speaking now, with re-election around the corner??? I would rather have a college educated stay-at-home mom/dad on the BOT then a CEO of a billion dollar corporation. Im guessing the Surmas and Fraziers of the world have better things to do when they get a break from stressing out over their stakeholder's capital gains. We need real people who really care about PSU to represent our university (kinda like Joe himself). From my experience, albeit limited, the smartest people I know seem to those w/o common sense.

  7. We have to wonder. Why did they (BOT) defy all logic and rush to judgment, Who pushed the panic button and what was their motives. This is not how professionals react to a crisis. This is by no means leadership. Their actions don’t pass the smell test.

    Ray you are doing a super job in pursuing he truth. The truth they may be hiding from.

  8. One thing struck me when I read this article..... Not only did none of the attourneys on the BOT question the validity or the accuracy of the Grand Jury Presentment, but the Governor... THE FORMER PENNSYLVANIA ATTOURNEY GENERAL did not stand up & discuss the drawbacks of utilizing a Grand Jury for anything!!!! This was an EPIC FAILURE on the part of the BOT!!!