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Senate Bill Calls For New Penn State Board

A state lawmaker wants to launch an overhaul of the type and number of board members directing Penn State University's Board of Trustees.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, 31 Penn State alumni ran for three seats on the board. Months later, the new group approved changes in the make up of the board to allow for more student and staff representation.

Pennsylvania Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), who received his bachelor's and master's degrees from PSU in 1993 and 2004, respectively, said this week those measures aren't enough.

“We need an open, accountable process at the trustee level if the people and the tax payers of Pennsylvania are going to have confidence again in the board of trustees of Penn State,” Yudichak said.

Under Yudichak’s plan, the board would be set at 36 members, including 14 appointed commonwealth trustees; 10 at-large trustees appointed by a trustee selection committee and 12 alumni elected trustees.

Of the commonwealth trustees, six would be appointed by the governor, four by the president pro tempore of the state senate and four by the speaker of the state house. The governor and the secretaries of education and agriculture would be non-voting, ex-officio members of the board.

Currently the board is made up of 38-members. Six are appointed by the governor; nine elected by alumni; six elected by organized agricultural societies within the state; six elected by the board of trustees representing business and industry endeavors; one student trustee; one academic trustee; the past president of the Penn State Alumni Association; and three at-large trustees. There are an additional five ex-officio trustees, including the university president, state governor and the state secretaries of the departments of conservation and natural resources, agriculture and education.

Under the current board, Yudichak said he believes "the university has walked further and further away from its historic partnership with Pennsylvania, acting more like a private institution than one of the Commonwealth's state-related universities.

Ideally, the changes proposed by Senate Bill 800 would make the board “more inclusive, engaged and accountable,” he said. The new proposal is more closely aligned with Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities -- Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln.

“The current majority of the board of trustees has used the rhetoric of board reform as blunt tool to exclude open, deliberative debate on the board and failed to responsibly engage the commonwealth in its discussions,” he said.

Penn State responded for a request for an interview with the following written statement:

“The board devoted well over a year to working with a nationally recognized governance expert, conducted benchmarking, and deliberated on various changes to its governance structure. The board voted overwhelmingly to approve a new structure that it believes will serve the interests of the university into the future.”

Penn State received $231.7 million in the state budget last year. Gov. Tom Wolf's 2015-16 budget proposal calls for an increase of $50.8 million. Yudichak said his legislation would ensure those dollars are well spent in the future.

“There needs to be a partnership here,” Yudichak said.  “The goal of the bill is to strengthen that historic partnership with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Penn State University.”

Senate Bill 800 has yet to be assigned to a committee.