Friday, June 8, 2012

A More Engaged and Transparent Board of Trustees at Penn State

Karen Peetz, the Chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees has just released a letter to alumni.

(Board of Trustees Chair Karen Peetz; Image from Penn State Live)

The letter, which is reproduced below, is worth reading.  It provides an indication of the emergence of a new governance culture on the Board of Trustees, one that should be translated into the operations of the university as an institution, including not just the highest levels of Penn State's administration (where substantial progress is being made) but more importantly at the operational level--chancellors and deans, where progress varies wildly from substantial to none--and  University Faculty Senate, where a similar approach is needed. But the letter also provides some clues about the Board's sense of the challenges that lie ahead, and the importance of each.  

In the coming months, I hope this sort of engagement becomes more interactive.  I look forward to the Board's assessment of the alumni opinion survey (more on that in a later post).  I also welcome greater board involvement in the strategic planning process and in helping shape, improve, and protect, the reputation and operation of the university. An educational institution ought to respect its past and its traditions, but it ought as well to avoid becoming nothing more than a shrine to the past bundled in a collection of endlessly repeated rituals offered as a substitute for forward movement. This university is poised to become a global leader in a world quite different in its expectations of leading educational institutions (and its institutional stakeholders) from that in which most of us were acculturated and some of us are more comfortable. There is much to be done to make this happen. This is part of a good start.  

Dear Penn Stater,

There is no doubt that the Penn State community continues to face challenging times, particularly as the Sandusky trial began this week. The last year has been difficult for our entire community, from students, alumni, faculty and staff to countless others who care deeply about Penn State. We've heard from many of you who are supportive of the steps being taken at the University; we appreciate that support, and we also respect and continue to listen to the opinions of those who may disagree.

For all of us who serve on the Board of Trustees, our greatest priority is maintaining Penn State's long-standing qualities of integrity, responsibility, service to the community and excellence in academics.

That is why, as we learn from and take action to address the past, we remain accountable to actively governing to ensure the greatest propriety in all of Penn State's activities. I want you to know that we are dedicated to working with President Rodney Erickson to address the crisis and its related issues, and we will continue to accelerate our efforts in this area.

In that spirit, I will be providing monthly updates like this one detailing the Board's actions and activities, which will be shared on the recently launched new version of the Board's website at online. The site continues our pledge for greater openness by providing more and better information to the Penn State community and beyond. It includes information about the Board's responsibilities, upcoming meetings, minutes and agendas, and recent news.

Additionally, you also may find the University's re-launched website at a helpful source of information about ongoing legal matters, as well as updates on the initiatives Penn State has put in place to address the serious issue of child abuse. I encourage you to check out this website as often as you can.

During the last few months, many Penn Staters have sought information on the Board, its authority and its responsibilities, so I would like to take this opportunity to explain our role at the University.

The Board of Trustees is the independent, corporate body established by the University's charter with "complete responsibility for the government and welfare of the University and all the interests pertaining thereto including students, faculty, staff and alumni." Our primary responsibilities include:
-- Selecting the president of the University;
-- Determining the major goals of the University;
-- Reviewing and approving the operating and capital budget of the
-- Informing the citizens of Pennsylvania about the University's performance
of its role in the education of the youth of Pennsylvania; and
-- Assisting the president in the development of effective relationships
between the University and the various agencies that provide the University
with assistance and direction.

Earlier this year we conducted a listening tour with students, faculty, staff, alumni and other groups to improve upon the University's communications and its overall openness. As a result of this tour, in March, we reorganized our committee structure to improve access to the Board, as well as the Board's oversight of the University. This included the creation of five new standing committees to supersede the three that had been in place for many years. The new committees are:

-- The Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life
-- The Committee on Finance, Business and Capital Planning
-- The Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning
-- The Committee on Audit, Risk, Legal and Compliance
-- The Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations

More recently, in May, we held several elections for trustee members, and set a record for alumni participation. For me, this was a powerful demonstration of the inclusiveness and resolve of the Board and Penn State community in addressing our current issues and preparing for future excellence. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I welcome and congratulate our four new members:  Donald G. Cotner, elected by delegates from agriculture societies; and Anthony P. Lubrano, Ryan J. McCombie and Adam J. Taliaferro, who were elected by alumni. We are excited for the new perspectives and ideas they will bring -- and we embrace the democratic process that helps ensure diversity and open communication.

Also this summer, we expect the results of the Freeh Report to be released. The University already has begun acting on preliminary recommendations of the independent internal review, which was initiated last November when the Board of Trustees appointed former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh to handle the investigation. Specifically, Penn State now has begun an employee education initiative for mandated reporter training. This training, for employees and volunteers who work with minors, teaches how to recognize the signs of child abuse as well as how to report abuse. In addition, Penn State has instituted more stringent and routine background checks for employees, and has hired a full-time compliance officer to support the Clery Act, a federal crime-reporting law for schools.

Finally, the Alumni Association released Thursday the results of its recent alumni opinion survey, which was conducted via a random statistical sample of alumni and can be found on the Alumni Association's website at online. These results will provide important guidance to the Board in better understanding the thoughts and concerns of our alumni as we all work to move forward. I encourage you, too, to review the results at your convenience.

Guided by President Erickson's leadership, we look forward to working with the Penn State community to continue leading the nation with top-notch academics,  breakthrough research and our long-standing commitment to service -- the foundations of our University for the past 157 years.

We are mindful that Penn State is the most popular university in the country, with more than 121,000 applications for the 2011-2012 school year. We also rank among the nation's top universities in industry-sponsored and defense-related research, with total research expenditures exceeding $804 million in 2011, including funding from government, industry, and other sources. Perhaps most importantly, Penn State continues to turn out high-caliber graduates -- the University was ranked first among 100 colleges,
including several Ivy League schools, in a 2010 Wall Street Journal survey of top recruiters from companies across the United States. And in March 2012, for the second straight year, employers surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the Penn State Smeal College of Business as having the best undergraduate business program in the country.

As I share my monthly website updates on the Board's progress, I am hopeful that our ongoing dialogue with you -- Penn State's dedicated and proud alumni -- will help us to deepen and strengthen the work that continues to make Penn State a national leader.


Karen Bretherick Peetz '77
Chairman, Penn State Board of Trustees


  1. The timing of this letter is interesting, as it's on the eve of the Sandusky trial and immediately after the Penn State Alumni Association released its survey results (which shows that 82% of alumni have "trust issues" with the Penn State Board of Trustees).

    Had Board updates been initiated prior to last November, I'm sure that such communication would have been received with open arms and serve to enhance Penn State's reputation.

    Having already lost confidence in the Penn State Board of Trustees, the letter will likely raise the ire of many alumni.

    WE ARE reforming the Penn State Board of Trustees. Join us: (website) (facebook) (twitter)

  2. So what is new about any of this? Does Ms. Peetz think that perhaps if so many Penn Staters are unhappy with the Board, don't trust them, think they've made terrible mistakes in how they have handled the Sandusky scandal, that perhaps the Board could acknowledge their errors and apologize? I can not believe the University has spent 10 million dollars to create this debacle. It is disappointing too that the faculty had a chance to make a real statement to the Board and whimped out.

  3. As usual, this letter is nothing more than a carefully worded essay, designed by some PR professionals to sound intelligent but say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Ms. Peetz and the rest of the board still just don't get it! I think it must be true that there is a very thin line between being extremely intelligent and mentally handicapped.

  4. Poppy Cock. We alums so totally disagree with Ms. Peetz fabrications!

  5. Censorship on this site. Very biased.