Pa. lawmakers weigh changes for governing state-related universities

    Several state lawmakers are focusing on the makeup of the trustee boards at Pennsylvania’s four state-related schools in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

    University presidents are already indicating some discomfort with a few of the proposed changes.

    After the Sandusky case, the composition of Penn State’s board was the subject of scrutiny. How trustees handled the firing of football coach Joe Paterno in November 2011 and other actions were called into question.

    Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner said the board failed to take the reins in the thick of the fallout. One factor he cited was the university president’s staus as a voting member of the board.

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    He also suggested all the state-related schools could stand to shrink the number of trustees serving on the board.

    But University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg says thinning the number of trustees doesn’t necessarily improve board governance.

    “I don’t know how a small board could exercise proper oversight over an institution of the size of Penn State or Pitt or Temple unless they were going to be full-time board members, unless you had a sufficient size to spread the work around,” Nordenberg said.

    Penn State’s trustees are already considering changes to the board, and other proposed overhauls are the subject of legislation in the state House and Senate.

    Senate lawmakers say they’ll look to apply such proposals to the other state-related schools as well.

    One proposal that appears to have little opposition is one that would end the voting role of university presidents.

    Penn State president Rodney Erickson says he’s fine with not having a vote on the board.

    “I think it’s helpful for a president to sit in on board deliberations, but I have never seen a situation where a president’s vote would have made any difference in the outcome of some deliberation,” he said.

    The presidents of the other state-related schools — Lincoln University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University — are in agreement.

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