Trustees | Trusteeship

Another Penn State tradition: Secrecy surrounding presidential selection

HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS   |  October 30, 2013 by Jan Murphy

Ben Novak knows well how Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano and possibly other university trustees are feeling about being treated as “sheep” in the university presidential selection process.

The former Penn State trustee, who served 1988 to 2000, was put in the same position when he, like the bulk of trustees serving with him, were left out of the presidential search process in 1995 that resulted in the university’s hiring of Graham Spanier.

“Once again, the same core is acting in secret to choose the president they want and of course, this is all done without the majority of the board being in on the decision or even knowing in advance who was considered,” Novak said.

Lubrano publicly vented to PennLive on Wednesday about the selection process being used to choose the university’s 18th president. Current President Rodney Erickson is stepping down in June.

“We’re told that the most important job we have is the hiring of the president – that’s what we’ve been told from Day One – and yet they’re excluding us from that process,” Lubrano said.

Lubrano also voiced dismay over the full 30-member board not being given the chance to participate in interviews with the final two or three finalists, instead of just a pre-vote meeting with the recommended candidate.

Other trustees either declined comment or could not be reached on Wednesday.

Novak said Lubrano’s complaint was reminiscent of his experience from 1995.

“At the cocktail hour, the entire board, a majority of whom, like myself, had never heard of Graham Spanier until a few days before, had an average of barely two minutes each to say hello and shake his hand,” Novak wrote in a paid advertisement that appeared in the Centre Daily Times last year.

“Immediately after the cocktail hour, the board filed into the next room and, as the first order of business, dutifully voted him in as the next president of The Pennsylvania State University.”

Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at American Council of Trustees and Alumni, called this exclusionary way of selecting a president a recipe for disaster, particularly in Penn State’s case.

He said while the last time it was conducted in this manner may have resulted in a visionary president like Spanier, it also put the board on a path to passive governance and becoming less engaged that some say contributed to trustees being overwhelmed when the Sandusky child sex scandal came to light.

If the trustees are serious about leaving behind that era, he said, “ they’ve got to do this with far more board inclusiveness and a higher level of transparency.”

On Wednesday, Penn State cancelled a Friday meeting that was advertised as consideration of a resolution regarding a personnel decision but was widely believed to be called for the purpose of electing a president.

It was postponed indefinitely “to allow for further consideration on the matter,” according to a statement from the university.

University officials declined comment on whether they are making any revisions to the selection process because of the pushback they have received from Lubrano and other trustees who were not included on the 12-member Presidential Selection Council.

That selection council was believed to have narrowed the field that is said to have started at 400 candidates down to a finalist.


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