Penn State alumni elected three new members to the university board of trustees, including a well-known former football player who recovered from a spinal cord injury and a businessman who has criticized the board’s actions after Jerry Sandusky’s arrest in a child sex-abuse scandal.
Alumni elected lawyer Adam Taliaferro, who played for the late coach Joe Paterno; prominent donor and outspoken board critic Anthony Lubrano; and retired U.S. Navy captain Ryan McCombie.
Election results were announced Friday following more than three weeks of online voting that drew a record turnout of at least 37,000. The new trustees begin their three-year terms July 1.
All three newcomers have expressed varying degrees of criticism of the board, but no one more so than Lubrano, who has been especially critical of the board’s ouster of Paterno days after Sandusky was charged in November. Alumni sent a message that they were dissatisfied with what the board’s decisions, Lubrano said following the trustees meeting during which election results were announced.
But Lubrano added in a statement, ”Though I have been an outspoken critic of the manner in which (the board) handled the firing of Coach Paterno and the events that followed, I understand the importance to all of us to heal as a Penn State community.”
Current members have already started reaching out to alumni watchdog groups that called for change, board chairwoman Karen Peetz said. She did not anticipate problems working with the new trustees.
”I think the board is always open to discussing what the issues are, whether it’s incoming members or people who are already on the board,” she said after being asked if the election sent a message to trustees.
Taliaferro, who practices law in Cherry Hill, N.J., led the election with 15,629 votes, followed by Lubrano, a financial services executive from Exton, with 10,096 and McCombie, a 1970 graduate who lives in State College, with 4,806.
Taliaferro, a 2005 graduate, is a former defensive back for Paterno who became well known for his courageous recovery from a career-ending spinal-cord injury suffered his freshman year in 2000 during a game at Ohio State. He also won election last year as a freeholder in Gloucester County, N.J.
”At the end of the day, we’re going to have to work together to come up with solutions to problems going forward,” Taliaferro said in a phone interview. McCombie was attending a commissioning ceremony on campus and did not attend the meeting.
Of the three incumbents whose terms are expiring, only retired schoolteacher Anne Riley ran again, losing her re-election bid. A State College resident, Riley is one of the board’s more well-known members and a frequent visitor to campus
Former newspaper editor David Jones has said he decided two years ago to limit his tenure on the board. The third, David Joyner, left the board because he is now the school’s acting athletic director.
All three were part of a board in November that unanimously voted to oust Hall of Famer Joe Paterno as head coach in the aftermath of the charges against Sandusky, a retired assistant coach. Paterno died in January at age 85, less than three months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
The head coach testified before a state grand jury about a 2002 allegation against Sandusky that was passed on to him by a graduate assistant. Paterno fulfilled a legal obligation by relaying the accusations to his superiors, one of whom oversaw campus police.
Trustees have said Paterno had a moral obligation to do more, and have also cited a ”failure of leadership” in severing ties with the coach.
Some alumni and former players have still questioned the motivations behind the move. Others have taken aim what they perceive as a lack of transparency on a 32-member board that they say is too large, and two alumni watchdog groups in particular have been vocal about using the election as a way to start enacting change on the board.
Alumna Elizabeth Morgan, a member of the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, said she would like to see the board release more information about how the board decides to spend university funds.
”This is a new era of not sitting back and letting things go on behind closed doors,” Morgan said.
The trustees race once generated little interest in the general public, let alone the more than 557,000 Penn State alumni across the country. Fewer than 12,000 voted last year; this year’s race drew more than 37,000 votes to shatter the previous record set in 1990 by about 10,000 votes.