Trustees | Trusteeship

Penn State board delays choice of new president

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER   |  November 3, 2013 by Susan Snyder

This week, Pennsylvania State University’s board of trustees was poised to select a new president. Now, it appears a vote is weeks—possibly months—away.

Board chairman Keith Masser, who said last month he expected a decision before the end of November, on Friday promised only that the process would conclude by June 30, the date by which president Rodney Erickson has said he will depart.

Trustees emerged from a private meeting Friday at the Nittany Lion Inn in State College and said they needed more time to consider candidates. That, they said, is why they canceled a public meeting at which they had been expected to vote.

“The search process is progressing and will continue until the best possible person to lead Penn State is selected and presented to the full board for a vote,” Masser said in a statement. “We fully expect that our efforts will ensure we attract a president who can truly maximize the potential of our exceptional university.”

Masser confirmed a statement he made to the State College Centre Daily Times that there was a candidate but that things happened beyond the control of the committee and candidate. He declined to elaborate.

He also confirmed that the board would look at current candidates as well as new ones going forward.

School officials have given no indication whether a pick is a week, a month, or months away, though signs point to the last.

The delay in announcing the appointment of a president is another bump in the road for the university, still recovering from the child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Other trustees contacted on Friday declined to comment, citing confidentiality.

The presidential search process has drawn criticism from trustees upset that they had not been told the identity of the candidates or allowed to interview them. Twelve of Penn State’s 32 trustees served on the search committee.

“This development strikes me as all to the good for the board to step back, do it over again, and do it correctly,” said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Selecting a president is the most important decision that a board will ever make, and not to have the whole board informed and engaged in that process is a grave mistake.”

The new president—the university’s 18th—will be charged with leading the 96,000-student, 24-campus system through continued fractious relationships with board members and alumni, some of whom are still upset that the school fired football coach Joe Paterno amid the scandal.

The new president will be in charge of a 44,000-employee enterprise that operates on an annual budget of more than $4 billion and that has had to cope with flat or declining state funding in recent years.

Erickson’s salary is $600,000. He took over in November 2011 after president Graham B. Spanier was forced out by the scandal.

In March, the university asked faculty, staff, and students what they wanted in the next president. It also hired an executive search firm to help with the process.

Nearly 400 people were contacted about the position, and an additional 150 were asked to suggest candidates, the school said.

Masser emphasized the need for confidentiality in the search and said there would be no public presentation or posting of a short list of candidates.

“It has been shown repeatedly that a confidential search process for an executive position attracts the best and most qualified and extraordinary candidates,” Masser said. “It is a protective measure for the candidates themselves and allows the university to attract the highest caliber of candidates.”


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