Governance reforms urged at PSU
No Regrets For Bill O'Brien
The auditor general of Pennsylvania said Thursday that Penn State's president and the state's governor should no longer serve as members of the school's board of trustees because both have conflicts of interest.
At a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa., Auditor General Jack Wagner said the changes, which would affect the seats held by current president Rodney Erickson and Gov. Tom Corbett, were necessary to improve the board's governance in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
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In April, ESPN The Magazine's Don Van Natta wrote how the scandal at Penn State would spread far beyond the campus. Story
"These changes would make clear the president and CEO of the university cannot be both an employee and also an equal to the board," Wagner said in a letter sent Thursday morning to leaders of the General Assembly. "Because it is impossible for the Penn State Board of Trustees to be completely independent and objective in restructuring itself, the General Assembly must step in to take decisive action via a special session or as a priority in the fall legislative session."
As auditor general, Wagner is responsible for ensuring all state money is spent legally. Because Penn State is a state-financed university, any change would have to be made by the General Assembly.
Wagner also announced that his office is working on a comprehensive report on Penn State, which is separate from the university-sanctioned Freeh report. The report will be completed within 60 days, he said.
Wagner's announcement came just one day after an extraordinary three-hour board of trustees session was held in State College, in which some trustees argued that Erickson did not have the legal authority under the board's bylaws to accept the package of NCAA sanctions announced Monday.
After the meeting, a statement of the board stood by Erickson, saying that the university had faced a multiple-year death penalty from the NCAA.
Erickson told "Outside the Lines" on Wednesday that the university faced the death penalty of up to four years if he had not signed the consent decree, which hit Penn State's football program with a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, the loss of dozens of scholarships and five-year probation, among other penalties.
Wagner also said that the General Assembly should no longer allow the governor to be an ex-officio non-voting member of the board "to alleviate concerns about conflicts of interest, real or perceived, that may arise from any statewide row officeholder being elected governor and subsequently exercising an active role on the board."
By conference call, Corbett attended the Nov. 9 board of trustees meeting in which coach Joe Paterno was fired. His role on the board has drawn controversy because he was the former attorney general who investigated the Sandusky matter for two years, with no charges resulting, before becoming governor. Corbett did not tell his fellow board members about the Sandusky matter in 2011.
Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DVNJr.