Penn St. trustees seek to rebuild communications
Keith Masser was busy enough running his 4,600-acre potato farm
before his schedule got even tighter the past couple months.
In January, he became the vice chairman of Penn State’s Board of
Trustees. He likened the time he’s put into the leadership position
to that of a second full-time job.
Masser and other board leaders are working to foster openness
and ease tensions on a campus on the mend from the scandalous
aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired assistant
football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was arrested last fall. Eight of
10 boys he is accused of abusing were attacked on campus,
The trustees remain a target of criticism from vocal alumni
watchdog groups angered by what critics have called the board’s
rash decision to fire longtime coach Joe Paterno, days after
Sandusky was charged.
Masser hopes increased interactions with students, faculty and
other university groups are helping repair the rift. Board leaders
recently met with some of the groups as part of an ongoing
”A key component is accessibility,” Masser told The Associated
Press in an interview this month.
”We’re making ourselves accessible to them,” he said. ”It
creates transparency and openness, which is relieving some of the
The board has begun an internal investigation of the Sandusky
case led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, but some critics have
complained about a lack of transparency that they say has raised
questions about trustees’ motivations.
”We’ve heard it all. We got grilled in some of these listening
groups,” Masser said before a recent trustees meeting in
Masser assumed his post in January, when banking executive Karen
Peetz was also elected chairwoman after their predecessors stepped
”The biggest issue is keeping the difference between the
Sandusky matters and the crisis … and keeping focused on the
future,” Peetz said. ”A lot of what we’re working on … is to
keep us focused on the future. That’s an incredibly important role
for the trustees as we deal with what’s current, but we focus on
where we go.”
Peetz has stressed three themes early in her tenure: changes in
the board’s committee structure related to governance; a continued
focus on ”justice for the victims”; and increased
The listening tours appeared to have quelled dissatisfaction
among some members of one interested group, the University Faculty
Senate, which in January had voted down a largely symbolic vote of
no confidence in the board by a 2-to-1 margin. The measure sought
to chastise the board for its handling of the scandal.
There are lingering concerns among some faculty about the
independence of Freeh’s investigation, said dairy and animal
sciences professor Daniel Hagen, the Faculty Senate chair who is
also a member of the investigations committee.
Overall, though, Hagen has said, Peetz and Masser have stressed
openness with the faculty. The Faculty Senate has also established
a committee to look at the functions and responsibilities of the
trustees in interacting with various university constituencies.
That report is due May 31. Freeh’s report is also expected to be
ready later this year.
Peetz also points to the formation of a new trustees committee
focused on outreach as a way to increase communication.
One watchdog group, Penn Staters for Reforming the Board of
Trustees, has said its mission is to amend the school’s charter to
change the structure and functioning of the board.
Trustee candidate Joanne C. DiRinaldo, an educator and
researcher, said this week the board has shown ”from my eyes,
incremental baby steps. I would like to see more drastic attempts
She suggested potential changes in bylaws that govern rules of
confidentiality of dissent on the board, and to open up trustees
meeting to public participation.
Unlike other vocal critics on social media, DiRinaldo said she
does not favor the entire resignation of the board because she
could not judge how they made their decisions behind closed doors.
”I will say they arrived at their decision hastily and without due
Another candidate, former Penn State defensive back Adam
Taliaferro, called the board’s recent efforts to communicate ”a
step in the right direction, more than what’s been done previously.
… I’m sure there’s more that can be done.” He suggested an
interactive podcast, or live video chats, to talk with more
”They just want to know what’s going on and be informed,” he
said. ”The more things we can do to inform the alumni, the
Candidates who win election should prepare to spend a lot of
time getting to work, trustee Paul Silvis said in Hershey.
”When individuals get on the board, they see things with a
different set of eyes, they see what goes on,” he said. ”We
welcome them to come on in, get ready to spend some time.”