ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.
In the wake of the release of the Freeh Group's report following its investigation of Penn State University, last week the Pennsylvania Auditor General released its own recommendations on the university's governance practices, the culmination of a several months-long process. ACTA was asked by the Auditor General's office to provide input for the report, whose preliminary recommendations to the state legislature include key points raised by ACTA—first, the importance of independence between a university's governing board and its president. ACTA's recommendations to the state auditor warned that "serious conflicts can arise" when the chief executive officer of a university is also a voting member of the board of trustees. The Auditor General's letter to the legislature agrees, "the President and CEO of the university cannot be both an employee and also an equal to the board."
The auditor also recommended that the Governor be removed from a sitting position on the board, a structural reform supported by ACTA. ACTA's recommendations to the state auditor noted that while a minority of governors sit on the boards of their state's public universities, "a governor's greatest reach is appointing all members of the board. In this way, there is clear accountability."
That said, in many ways the state auditor's recommendations do not appear to go far enough. Acknowledging the 32-member board, the state auditor has called for the reduction of a quorum to a simple majority. But the real problem is the large size, one which makes meaningful discussions difficult. A relic of the Civil War era, the charter for the Penn State board provides for an unwieldy collection of 32 people, coming from a range of constituencies: six are appointed by the governor; six more are elected by the board to represent business and industry; five are ex-officio members (including the governor); nine are elected by the alumni; and six more are tossed in courtesy of agricultural societies.
Not exactly a recipe for independence and accountability. Given the size and composition, trustees are more likely to go along to get along rather than ask the tough questions. It is no wonder, then, that trustees told the Freeh group that they perceived themselves as a "rubber stamp for the administration," or that at least one former Penn State trustee characterized board culture as dictated by a small "Power Group" of trustees bearing "almost no distinction [from] the administration itself."
The state auditor's office plans to release a full report in the next 60 days.
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