Thursday, August 9, 2012

Board of Trustees Meeting Scheduled for Sunday to Discuss NCAA Consent Agreement

It appears that the Penn State Board of Trustees continue to change the shape of their governance habits and are becoming more intimately involved in shaping policy for the university.  

board of trustees nittany lion inn

This from the Penn State Alternative Website--Onward State: "The Penn State Board of Trustees will hold a special phone conference Sunday evening at 5 p.m. to discuss the consent decree with the NCAA accepting the sanctions, a board source confirmed to Onward State earlier today."

Onward State describes itself as "an independent, alternative Penn State blog that seeks to foster the student voice through the combination of commentary that is fair, authentic, and sometimes humorous; analysis that is critical and irreverent; and news that is relevant and accurate. Onward State works to generate honest and frank conversation in the hopes of enriching the Penn State community and experience.It was posted by Kevin Horne (Kevin tells us that he is a sophomore majoring in Public Relations and Media Studies from Williamsport, PA. Kevin also serves as UPUA Press Secretary). The post continues:

Penn State confirmed the meeting, which the public can listen to online or by phone. will carry a stream of the meeting, or people can call in to a phone number listed on that website (with the access code #1855 — who said the Board of Trustees wasn’t witty?).

Much controversy has been made about President Rodney Erickson’s decision to sign the consent degree with the NCAA, which accepts unprecedented and crippling sanctions against the Penn State football program. Several Board of Trustees members have been outspoken in their opposition to Erickson’s agreement, and multiple parties have filed appeals against the NCAA on Penn State’s behalf.

It is unknown whether or not a vote will take place, but the decision to hold another meeting of this sort is an interesting one. The Board held a closed meeting two weeks ago to discuss the sanctions and President Erickson, and they released a statement accepting the sanctions even though no formal vote was taken. 
The Board itself provided an explanation for the meeting: "A statement about the Sunday meeting from the board says,
Since the NCAA consent decree was imposed on the university two weeks ago, there has been a considerable amount of confusion and misinformation about how the university came to its decision to accept the consent decree and why we believe that was the best course of action for the university." The meeting will be to consider ratifying the decree Erickson already approved. "This meeting will ensure there is no misunderstanding or further confusing as to where the board stands on this matter," the board statement says. (From Anne Danahy, Update: Penn State trustees to meet Sunday to vote on NCAA sanctions, Centre Daily Times, August 9, 2012).
Read more here:

The need for a special Board of Trustees meeting suggests several things. The need to ratify an action already taken by the President reminds us that the President lacks authority to enter into out of the ordinary course agreements, such as the NCAA consent degree.  But that ratification, rather than approval or delegation of authority before the fact, suggests that the new pattern of governance oversight has yet to be refined enough to meet the flexible needs of the institution in the circumstances in which it finds itself. While it is unlikely to happen, failure to ratify, of course, would now put the NCAA sanctions back at issue.  One hopes that President and Board avoid the need for ratification in the future.  One way to do that would be to engage in an open and inclusive discussion about the way in which President and Board could best work together.  Penn State is not  unique here--the recent uproar at the University of Virginia suggests the way in which this issue touches other universities.

More generally, the meeting could, for example, point to a more vigorous oversight role by the board of trustees, the lack of which has been a point of criticism and illustrative of the sorts of things that required rethinking about Penn State's governance culture.  ESPN recently reported:

The resolution the board will consider states "the process followed by the (NCAA) was unfortunate and the punitive sanctions are difficult," and refers to the consent decree as "binding."

The outcome of Sunday's meeting seems almost certain, sources told "Outside the Lines," because two straw polls about whether to appeal the sanctions were taken by a quorum of trustees during a conference call Tuesday. . . .

Tuesday's call lasted about two hours and was very contentious, sources said, as trustees and legal counsel debated the merits of appealing to the NCAA.

A person with knowledge of the discussion said Gene Marsh, an attorney who negotiated the deal with the NCAA on behalf of Penn State, told trustees that the sanctions were not appealable by any single person based on NCAA bylaws. (From Don Van Natta, Jr., PSU expected to ratify sanctions, ESPN, Aug. 9, 2012).

It might also suggest a change in the way the Board of Trustees operates, providing a space for greater deliberation on issues of importance.  With respect to the point of the meeting, it might also suggest a need for the board to provide guidance to those who have been charged with implementing the Freeh Group recommendations, and especially those that were made part of the NCAA sanctions. Additionally, there may be, and perhaps there ought to be, discussion of the move by some of the trustees to challenge the NCAA sanctions, apparently in their individual capacities. 

The meeting comes as some university trustees, the family of Joe Paterno and a group of former football players are trying to challenge the NCAA sanctions. All three groups filed notices of appeal of the consent decree.

The notice of appeal filed on behalf of newly elected trustee Ryan McCombie says the board "was not informed or consulted about this matter, not did it grant approval to the president to take the questioned action, as required by the charter and bylaws of the university, and the standing orders of the board of trustees."

It challenges the sanctions for failing to follow the NCAA's own procedures. The NCAA didn't conduct its own investigation, and instead relied on the findings of the Freeh report, which the university commissioned. That investigation faulted Paterno and three top administrators for trying to cover-up child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky. (From Anne Danahy, Update: Penn State trustees to meet Sunday to vote on NCAA sanctions, Centre Daily Times, August 9, 2012).
ead more here: Centre Daily Times, August

Read more here:
What all of this makes clear is that, no matter how so many among us may hope that it is possible to return to patterns of behavior, including governance behaviors, pre-Novemeber 2011, that is no longer possible.  I continue to rely on the goodwill, good faith and great efforts by leaders in our administration and board to work through these glitches on the way to better governance architectures. Persistence in old patterns by some, however, will only continue to produce what might, in the minds of others, be treated as mistakes that are unnecessary and that unnecessarily prolong needed changes in culture and behavior. 

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