HERSHEY — “How important is accountability?” Barry Fenchak asked at the Penn State board of trustees meeting.
If the public comments were right, it’s pretty important. Fenchak, a faculty member and alumnus who has been removed from past meetings for disrupting the public comment portion with his outspoken critiques of the board, held to form as he kicked off Friday’s comments with harsh words again. “We all know that the genesis of so many issues we face is from the unaccountable board,” he said. “This is the cancer that afflicts Penn State.” He wasn’t alone in his criticism.
Penn State Boardwatch chairman and former trustee candidate Jeff Goldsmith took them to task for disregarding suggestions for reforming the board structure. After months of debate and many options for streamlining or making other changes, the governance committee opted in September to endorse a last-minute plan that added student, faculty and selected at-large trustees, plus the immediate past president of the alumni association, as voting members, but took votes away from the state secretaries of education, agriculture and conservation and natural resources.
In November, however, after Tom Corbett lost the gubernatorial race, Tom Wolf asked that they delay passing the reform until after his inauguration. State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, also pushed for delay as they worked toward reform. The board moved ahead, but suspended taking away the secretaries’ votes. That means the voting total will become 36 when the new members are added.
Yudichak is collecting co-sponsors for a new quest to change the structure. He hopes to introduce his bill next month.
“You’re not getting on top of it,” Goldsmith told the board. “Engage the state. Work with them. If you don’t do it, the state will do it for you. It’s time to stop being reactive. It’s time to be proactive.”
There were attacks on the Freeh report as a “self-inflicted wound” the board delivered to the university. Alumnus Steve Masters called the actions “rash and irresponsible, a dereliction of fiduciary responsibility.”
A student even had damning words for one unidentified trustee. Melissa McCleery, a member of the sexual assault task force, said that at the January meeting, one of the board members dismissed her with rolled eyes, leaving her “the most disrespected and insulted” she had ever felt in her life. The public comments were made in a conference room at the Hershey Lodge while the board members were in another room. It was the second time the setup was used. “We will continue to come to this mockery of a public comment session as long as they have them,” alumna Denise McClellan said.