Baffled, Befuddled, and Bamboozled: Penn State Trustees and NCAA are Sinking

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

When we last left the baffled and befuddled Penn State trustees, they were trying to figure out what happened in the Great NCAA Sanctimonious Sanction.

What happened is that the NCAA bamboozled university president Dr. Rodney Erickson. The NCAA—having spent most of its history figuring out ways to make college athletics even more prominent on college campuses—suddenly found religion, created new rules, didn’t conduct an investigation, and shredded anything resembling due process. Using the Freeh Report as its newly-found Bible, NCAA president Mark Emmert piously declared he wanted Penn State to “rebuild its athletic culture,” and preached the lesson that the NCAA hoped “to make sure that the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur.”

It was a neat little speech, probably written by PR people. But it couldn’t be Penn State he was referring to. Penn State athletes go to classes and graduate; its football team is often at or near the top of graduation rates for Division I football programs. The university itself, even with a well-recognized party culture, is well-known for numerous academic programs that are among the best in the country.

Nevertheless, Emmert somberly told Erickson that the NCAA was seriously considering the death penalty for Penn State. Death, in NCAA terms, means a suspension of the sport for at least one season. The only time the NCAA had issued the death penalty was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University for blatant and repeated recruiting violations. Death to the Nittany Lions football program would significant harm the university and private business, and affect far more than the football team, not one of them having been involved in what is now known as the Penn State Sandusky Scandal.

But, said Emmert, have we got a deal for you. If you sign on the dotted line, we won’t kill football at Penn State, we’ll just fine you $60 million, ban you from bowl games for four years, reduce the number of scholarships, vacate the 111 wins from 1998 to 2011, require you to follow everything the Freeh Report recommended, hire an athletics monitor, comply with everything we tell you, and place you on probation for five years.

Now, every career criminal and little ole lady who accidentally shoplifts knows the police and DA aren’t serious in their first presentment of charges. They overcharge, trying to scare the defendant into a plea bargain. Plea bargains allow DAs to claim high conviction rates, while not having to get all messy with such things as jury selection and presenting evidence. So, the defendant and the DA negotiate, and a few charges are thrown out, and the defendant agrees to a lesser offense—perhaps instead of felony burglary, it becomes a misdemeanor, complete with a small fine and probation—and everyone is happy.

Dr. Erickson, with Pigskin Proud drops of perspiration flowing freely, was so relieved his university wasn’t getting the electric chair, he agreed to whatever it was that the haughty NCAA demanded, and signed the consent decree that Penn State would never ever appeal the decision.

Back in State College, the trustees, as is their history, were clueless and furious.

For years, they thought their only functions were to approve whatever the university president told them needed approving, raise tuition and fees, and get their friends good seats at football games. Now they faced a greater problem.

They had previously proven they were inept in how they handled the scandal. They had previously violated state law by their secret meetings and failure to extend any semblance of due process to Coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Then to hide their meltdown, they commissioned Louis Freeh, former FBI director, to conduct what they claimed was an independent investigation, for which the insurance company paid about $6.5 million.

True to what the Trustees wanted, Freeh miraculously decided that the Trustees needed to reassert their power, and that the people to blame, in addition to the convicted child molester, were the former president who resigned,  a now-retired senior vice-president, a former athletic director, and the dead guy, also known as Joe Paterno. Problem solved.

However, there are still a few problems. The first problem is that the Freeh investigation is just that—a private investigation that was not subject to even the basic rules of due process, the right of individuals to subpoena witnesses and to challenge their accusers under oath.

The second problem is that Jerry Sandusky, convicted of an assortment of felonies, was not employed by the university or was a football coach at the time the crimes were committed. The first suspected felony, reported by Paterno, was not prosecuted by police or the DA.

The third problem is that Paterno and Spanier, who faced media hysteria and took the brunt of the Trustee condemnation, were never charged with having done anything illegal, nor did they ever face their accusers in court.

Enter Ryan McCombie, a Penn State alumnus who was elected to the Board in July as a reform candidate promising to get the Board and the university to be more accountable to the people and to protect the rights of accused. McCombie isn’t some wimp in the disguise of a corporate executive. He’s a retired commanding officer of Navy Seal Team Two, and not someone to be messed with.

One month after his election, McCombie unleashed his first shot, and it wasn’t over the bow. In a letter to the NCAA, McCombie, acknowledged the suffering of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. However, he also said that the NCAA objectives that led to the sanctions “should not be achieved by ignoring or trampling upon the fundamental rights of others. The desire for speed and decisiveness cannot justify violating the due process rights of other involved individuals or the University as a whole.”

He charged that Erickson didn’t have the authority to enter into the agreement with the NCAA. He noted that the lack of an NCAA investigation violated NCAA established procedures, and were “excessive and unreasonable.” But his most powerful torpedo hit dead center. The conclusions and recommendations of the Freeh report, which the NCAA used to justify its moral outrage, was “based on assumptions, conjecture and misplaced characterizations that are contrary to available facts and evidence,” said McCombie.

The final problem is that the NCAA and most of the Penn State Trustees are still paddling in choppy seas and don’t know they have been sunk.

[Walter Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and university professor. He is the author of 17 books, the most recent of which is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and political corruption.]

           

 

 

 

Sunshine Still Blocked at Penn State

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--The Penn State Board of Trustees, still sanctimonious in its public moral outrage, continues to violate state law.

The Board held a private three hour meeting, Wednesday evening [July 25] to discuss the NCAA sanctions and the role university president Dr. Rodney Erickson played in accepting the sanctions.

Erickson, according to the Centre Daily Times, had “accepted the sanctions after discussing them with advisors and some trustees, but not the entire board.”

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which covers Penn State, requires that public agencies “shall give public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year not less than three days in advance of the meeting and shall give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings.” For special meetings, the Sunshine Act requires an agency to give public notice at least 24 hours in advance. The law doesn’t require a public notice if an emergency meeting is declared, but there was no indication that anything the Board conducted in secret was an emergency, as defined under the Act. The Board gave no indication that the meeting was an executive session to discuss personnel issues or pending lawsuits.

The law also requires that, “Official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency shall take place at a meeting open to the public.” None of the few exceptions permitted in state law seems to apply to the reason for the latest meeting.

Following the meeting, the Board issued a PR-soaked statement that the meeting was for a “discussion,” and that there was no vote. Apparently, the Board believes that “discussions” without a vote aren’t covered by the Sunshine Act, so it was free to hold yet another unpublicized secret meeting. The Board, as has been so often the case, was wrong.

The Sunshine Act defines a meeting as “Any prearranged gathering of an agency which is attended or participated in by a quorum of the members of an agency held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.” Discussions or the lack of a vote are not reasons for exemption. According to local media, at least 15 members of the 32-member board were in attendance at that meeting, with an unknown number possibly connected by telephone communications. A quorum is 13 members.

The Board, in the week prior to firing Coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier in November, had conducted at least two illegal meetings and, in violation of its own rules and state requirements, failed to give Paterno or Spanier due process in their abrupt termination.

The pattern of the Board’s haughty disregard of state law and failure to provide transparency didn’t begin with the disclosure of Jerry Sandusky’s actions on the university campus, but has been obvious to even the most casual observer for years.

On the day after the Board held its latest meeting, Auditor General Jack Wagner, who had been conducting an independent investigation, called a news conference to announce that “the culture at the highest level of this university must change.” Wagner, calling for better “transparency and accountability,” charged that the Board and administration “operate[s] in an isolated fashion without any public scrutiny on certain very important decisions impacting the university.” The Board, said Wagner “cannot operate in secrecy.”

He also recommended that Penn State and the three other state-related universities (University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln and Temple universities), all of which take state funds, be fully subjected to the state’s Right-to-Know Law. The state’s 14 state-owned universities are already covered by the Right-to-Know Law. (Penn State receives $300–400 million a year.)

Wagner also recommended the university president not be a member of the Board, citing the unusual situation of the president being an employee of the Board as well as a member of the governing body. He also recommended that the Governor, a voting member, become an ex-officio nonvoting member to avoid appearance of any conflicts of interest.

Gov. Tom Corbett has come under heavy opposition for what was at least a three year delay while he was attorney general in prosecuting Jerry Sandusky, although there was sufficient evidence to make an arrest; for taking about $600,000 in campaign donations from members of the Board of  Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation and those associated with the Foundation; for awarding a $3 million state grant to the Foundation, which was later rescinded; and then, after his election as governor and a Board trustee, not only failing to inform the Board about Sandusky but then using his political muscle to sway the Board into making personnel decisions. Corbett, a Republican, is also suspected of having a personal vendetta against Paterno, a Republican who refused to endorse him for governor and who did endorse Barack Obama for the presidency. When questioned about his role in the scandal, Corbett has either ignored questions or lashed out against reporters who asked for clarification.

Corbett’s response to Wagner’s suggestions was relayed by his press secretary to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Without answering the issue raised by Wagner’s report, Kevin Harley said, “Jack Wagner can sit on the sidelines and take political shots, but the fact remains that Gov. Corbett was elected by the people of Pennsylvania.” Harley also attacked the auditor general’s suggestion about removing the governor as a voting member of the Penn State Board of Trustees as nothing more than “a proposal made by someone who ran for governor but lost.” Wagner never ran against Corbett, but in a Democratic primary.

Wagner, in a letter to the General Assembly, noted that formal recommendations would be made within 60 days.

In this case, the Pennsylvania legislature, as dysfunctional as it is bitterly partisan, should have little debate about making the state’s largest university more accountable to the people who support it.

[Assisting was Mary C. Marino, a former research librarian. Dr. Brasch spent four decades as a journalist and university professor. He is the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Press Club and the author of 17 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow.]

 

 

More Jokes From the Penn State Trustees

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Whenever I need a couple of laughs, I turn to the bumbling self-aggrandizing antics of the Republican wing of Congress.

However, in the past few months, the Penn State Board of Trustees has done the near-impossible; they have provided more laughs than the menagerie in the Capitol.

To call either the Legislators or the Trustees “clowns” would demean the hard work of the circus performers who spend significant time to develop and execute comedy routines. There is no evidence the Trustees even have a thought process before they make outrageous and just plain silly statements.

The latest Trustee joke is that the reason they really fired Joe Paterno abruptly on Nov. 9, 2011, is because of “a failure of leadership.” The Board released what it called a “report,” but which is nothing but a press release of rehashed statements. This “report” claims the Trustees fired Paterno after they read the Grand Jury report that outlined a series of allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, whose name is now known among more Americans than anyone who ever won a Nobel Prize.

Marianne Alexander, one of the trustees, told the media the Board’s intention “was to clarify, because everyone’s been asking for clarification.” This, of course, is the same Board of Trustees that, mouthing the prattling of the ethically-challenged Gov. Tom Corbett, had condemned Paterno for being “morally corrupt,” or “not doing enough,” or whatever phrase they could quickly find in a Thesaurus of Blame.

Even children barely able to read a newspaper know the basics of the issue. A graduate assistant had seen or heard (it’s still not completely clear) Jerry Sandusky, who was no longer employed by Penn State but who used the university fields and showers, possibly molested a child. The assistant told his supervisor, Joe Paterno. The legendary coach whose ethics and morals were never questioned in six decades as a coach and member of the faculty, followed university policy and procedure and told his superiors, one of whom oversaw the university police force. (Sandusky, of course, was later convicted on 45 counts that should keep him in prison for life.)

Some claim that Paterno was “morally wrong” not to “do more” and use his power at Penn State to have Sandusky immediately arrested. These Monday Morning Know-Nothings fail to understand that to “do more” would have been nothing less than interfering with a police investigation.

Corbett, attorney general at the time, could have conducted a thorough investigation, but allowed the latest accusations to simmer for more than two years while he campaigned for the governorship and take more than $200,000 in campaign funds from current and former board members of Sandusky’s Second Mile charity; he only stopped a $3 million grant to Second Mile after Centre County, the conduit for the funds, refused to continue to be a part of the funding.

The Trustees, clueless as most college trustees are, could have learned about the allegations and taken action to protect the university and children. They did not do so. They did not do so even after a Grand Jury was convened and reported about in the local newspaper. They apparently didn’t even have a crisis communications plan should anything happen about anything.

 

And so, when the festering sore of university ineptness became infected, they tried covering it up with band-aids. And then everything blew open, catching the Trustees by surprise—or at least that’s what they seemed to want us to believe.

In quick order, they continued to violate the state’s Sunshine Law—they never really obeyed it to begin with—had secret meetings, and violated their own policies and state requirements on personnel actions. When all the hand-wringing was completed, they decided the best way to deal with a child predator was to fire the best-known football coach in America—who was never under any suspicion of having committed any crime—and to do it during the middle of a football season after Paterno announced his retirement.

While the media, always hungry for salacious news content, and a few hundred thousand sanctimonious pretend-fans were yelling, “Joe Must Go!” millions supported Paterno. This, of course, caused more problems for the Board That Couldn’t Think Straight.

As individuals and blogs began condemning the Board for its actions—and especially for what it didn’t do—the Board (composed primarily of high-level business executives, farmers, and assorted professionals who should have known better) continued to come up with lame and mostly laughable excuses of why it did what it did. Several trustees even stupidly told the media that people should withhold judgment on the Board’s actions until all the evidence was available. The irony was lost on the Board but not upon millions who were rightfully indignant about why the Trustees could take abrupt and unexplained action against Paterno, but wanted everyone else to withhold judgment about its own reasons.

In an effort to placate the alumni and several million Americans still outraged at the Board’s incompetence, the Board (or whoever writes the Board’s public statements) issued its “report,” beginning with a trickle of crocodile tears about sharing “the grief of the entire Penn State family at the passing of Coach Paterno,” and then praising both his and former President Graham Spanier’s “lasting contributions.” The Board declared it “has always been” its intention to “to fulfill [Paterno’s] employment contract and to name him head coach emeritus.” Considering that the Trustees had fired Paterno illegally, they had no choice but to honor the contract. The title of “head coach emeritus” is window dressing. A more fitting title, although it would never assuage the pain the Board caused Joe Paterno and his family, would have been to name him “professor emeritus,” which does carry privileges and would recognize that Paterno, a member of the faculty, was far more than a coach. Almost as an after-thought, the Trustees in the latest statement casually tossed a one-liner that “other options” to honor Paterno “are also under consideration.”

Trustee Marianne Alexander said the latest “report” was made because “We’re trying to be responsible to our constituents.”

If the Board of Trustees really wants “to be responsible,” it would stop violating the state’s Sunshine Law, would agree to be included in the state’s Right-to-Know Law, would stop issuing silly statements to justify their own incompetence, reverse the firing of Joe Paterno (and possibly that of Dr. Spanier), and then resign.

[Walter Brasch was recently named the Pennsylvania Press Club’s Communicator of Achievement, a lifetime honor for excellence in journalism and community service; it was the first time in 10 years the Club issued the CoA honor. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the 1960s counterculture as being relevant to today’s American culture.]

 

Sanctimonious Hypocrites Can’t Diminish the Warmth for Joe Paterno

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) praised Joe Paterno and ordered flags on all state buildings to fly at half-staff for four days.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had said he was “personally disappointed” in Joe Paterno for not doing more to alert authorities in the Jerry Sandusky case, while acknowledging that Paterno did nothing illegal and followed university rules for conduct.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who, as attorney general, assigned only one investigator to the case in 2009, while devoting almost innumerable personnel and financial resources to prosecute high-profile cases that could help lead him to the governor’s office.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who had the authority to order the arrest of Jerry Sandusky as soon as the claims were made, but who allowed the investigation to drag two years.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who stepped up the investigation only in the third year, after he was elected governor.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who accepted about $200,000 in campaign donations from trustees of Sandusky’s Second Mile foundation and then danced around questions of why, as governor, he authorized a $3 million grant to the Second Mile.

That would be the same Tom Corbett who as an ex-officio member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, with the power to increase or decrease state appropriations to the university, big-footed his presence to demand that the Trustees do something to Joe Paterno.

Now, let’s look at the Board of Trustees. On Jan. 22, the day that Joe Paterno died from lung cancer, the Board issued a honey-dripped PR-laden written commemoration.

That, of course, would be the same Board that, influenced by the harpies of the media and a horde of the public who knew everything about everything, except people and football, had wanted to terminate Joe Paterno’s contract after his teams had losing seasons in 2003 and 2004. He was too old, they said. He was getting senile, they claimed. His coaching strategy was too conservative, they cried with the shrill cry of a wounded hyena. But, an 11-1 season in 2005 quieted their panic. And so they stewed, knowing that a football coach, educator, philanthropist, and humanitarian had a greater reputation than all of them combined.

That would be the same Board that violated every expectation of due process, listened to the other sanctimonious hypocrites who were quick to condemn someone without knowing the facts, and by a cowardly and impersonal phone call violated four levels of the chain of command and fired Joe Paterno hours after he had announced his retirement. It was their pathetic way to make people believe they, not the most recognizable person in Penn State history, were in control. The reality, of course, is they botched the firing in a feeble attempt to protect themselves, not Penn State and, certainly, not the rights of a tenured full professor, who had given 61 years of service to the university.

That, of course, would be the same Board that should have known for at least six months, and probably longer, of a grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky’s conduct, but apparently had no crisis management plan to deal with what would become the greatest scandal in its 156-year history.

That, of course, would be the same Board that had operated in a culture of secrecy that regularly violated the state’s Sunshine law and enjoyed its status as receiving state tax moneys while not having to be under the glare of the public right-to-know law.

That, of course, would be the same board that includes the CEOs of U.S. Steel, Merck, and a major division of the Bank of New York Mellon; and an assortment of senior executives from insurance, investment, and education. Even a retired assistant managing editor of The New York Times is on the Board. And, yet, this Gang of 32, which should have known better, bumbled, stumbled, and proved that malfeasance and incompetence is what it should be best known for. For the most part, they acted like undergraduates struggling to earn a grade of “C” in a course in human relations, having already decided they didn’t need the course in business communications.

Now, let’s turn to the new president. The Board forced the resignation of a respected 17-year president for not doing enough to investigate the Sandusky allegations. By most accounts, the new president, formerly the provost and executive vice-president, is a decent person with a good academic reputation. But, is it credible that if the No. 1 person should have known more and done more, how could the No. 2 person be ignorant of the allegations. Nevertheless, the Board sent the newly-minted president out on nothing less than a belated PR field trip to calm the rising storm against the Board for its incompetence and insensitivity in firing Joe Paterno. At three meetings with hundreds of alumni, the new president, facing alumni wrath, did little to alleviate their anger. But, he promised the university would do something—he didn’t know what—he didn’t know how or when—to honor Joe Paterno.

Of course, since the Board was so inept, secret, and hypocritical in its own actions, it had no idea what it was going to do. The Board statement the day of Joe Paterno’s death merely stated the university “plans to honor him,” and is considering “appropriate ways.”

The greatest honor will not come from the Board, the administration, or even the Legislature, many of whom sought the media spotlight to pander to certain voters by condemning the coach. At the statue by Beaver Stadium, thousands of students, staff, faculty, and community residents are coming to pay their respects. Hundreds had met him, for he was one of the more accessible persons in the community, often walking home alone from practices and games; his phone number was in the book; his home was in a quiet residential area not a mansion on a hill reserved for the wealthy. Most of the mourners had never met him, but they all knew him.

On Tuesday, about 27,000 people from all over the United States stood in line up to three hours to walk past the body of Joe Paterno, guarded by past and present scholar-athletes. NFL super-stars and football fans, academics and those who never went to college, all were there to honor the man who was an outstanding quarterback and cornerback who earned an English literature degree from Brown University, one of the more prestigious in the country; a man who later created the “Great Experiment” to develop and promote a winning football program that would make education and citizenship more important than sports, and would make “success with honor” more than words.

Within ten minutes, mourners grabbed the first 10,000 tickets for a Thursday memorial at the Bryce Jordan Center. The center capacity for the memorial is 12,000.

Sue Paterno need not have worried when she quietly asked some mourners to keep her husband warm. When journalism turns into history, it will be written that Joe Paterno had done more than was expected, in every part of his life. The people, not the governor or the trustees who will quickly be forgotten in the cold, will keep Joe Paterno warm.  

[Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist, former tenured full professor, and author of 17 books. His current one is Before the First Snow: Tales from the Revolution.

Labor Not Represented in Management of the 'People's Universities'

 

by Walter Brasch

 

 Although more than one million Pennsylvanians are members of labor unions, and the state has a long history of worker exploitation and union activism, neither of the two largest university systems has a labor representative on its governing board.

The only labor representative on the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) in its 28 year history was Julius Uehlein, who served 1988–1995 while Pennsylvania AFL–CIO president. The appointment was made by Gov. Robert P. Casey, a Democrat.

Only two persons have ever represented labor on Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Gov. Milton Shapp, a Democrat, appointed Harry Boyer, the state AFL–CIO president, in 1973. Shortly after Boyer retired in 1988, he resigned as a trustee. Richard Trumka, a Penn State alumnus and Villanova law school graduate, now the national AFL–CIO president, served as a trustee, 1983–1995, while president of the United Mine Workers. He was first appointed by Gov. Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, reappointed by Gov. Casey, and not reappointed when Tom Ridge, a Republican, became governor.

The 32-member Penn State Board of Trustees is divided into five groups: ex-officio members (6), Governor appointments (6), members elected by the Alumni Association (8), Business and Industry members (6), and elected members from Agriculture (6). The Agriculture representation dates to 1862 when Penn State (at that time known as Farmer’s High School) was one of the first two land grant institutions; the land grant institutions were created to provide advanced education in agriculture and the sciences. Currently, 15 members either are or were CEOs. Among them are the CEOs of U.S. Steel and Merck. One of the ex-officio members is the Penn State president, which creates an interesting potential for a conflict-of-interest. Except for one student representative, most of the rest are lawyers or senior corporate or public agency executives. Only six members are women, only three are members of minority classes.

The lack of diversity became an issue this week when the Faculty Senate called for a more diverse board. The challenge to the Trustees was unusual because the Senate “has always been a relatively non-confrontational group,” according to Dr. Paul Clark, head of the university’s prestigious Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, who had served as a senator for 15 years. However, child molestation charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, combined with how poorly the university administration and the secrecy-clad Trustees handled the problem, exposed the university and trustees to additional scrutiny.

“Because of the number of union members in Pennsylvania, and the need to have working people’s issues and perspectives represented on the board, we always thought it made a lot of sense for that constituency [working class] to be represented on the trustees,” says Dr. Clark.

At one time, Penn State had an active labor studies advisory committee, dating back to the early 1950s when Milton Eisenhower was the university president. That committee met at least four times a year and “was well respected,” says Irwin Aronson, general counsel for the Pennsylvania AFL–CIO, and a Penn State labor studies graduate. After Dr. Graham Spanier became president in 1995, the committee quickly dissolved because “he didn’t seem to have much interest in it,” says Richard Bloomingdale, Pennsylvania AFL–CIO president. There is no doubt, says Aronson, that “the previously warm relationship between labor and Penn State’s administration collapsed under Dr. Spanier’s administration.” Bloomingdale says he hopes Rodney Erickson, Penn State’s newly-appointed president, will see the necessity to reinstate the committee.

Penn State also has what may be the state’s premiere collection of labor history primary source documents, especially from the coal region. The letters, notes, diaries and other materials are archived in the Paterno Library.

 Penn State is a state-related private university which received $279 million in state funding for the current fiscal year; it has 94,000 students on its 24 campuses, with 44,000 of the students enrolled on its main campus. About 3,000 Penn State staff (mostly those working in maintenance, physical plant, dormitories, and the cafeteria) are members of the Teamsters. About 1,300 registered nurses, including those of the Hershey Medical Center, are members of the Service Employees International Union. However, there is no faculty union at Penn State. Part of the problem, says Dr. Clark, is that faculty in the large business and agriculture colleges, plus those in engineering and science, tend not to have strong union loyalties; those in the liberal arts tend to have more acceptance of the value of unions.

SSHE, the larger of the two systems, has 120,000 students enrolled in 14 universities. Its 20-member Board of Governors isn’t much more diverse than Penn State’s. The Board has three student representatives who are appointed by the Board after being nominated by the presidents of the 14 universities. However, because of the way the students are nominated by presidents of the individual campuses and then selected by the Board of Governors, most usually have views similar to what the administration sees as mainstream and acceptable. Membership also includes four legislators, selected from each political caucus (Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate) and the secretary of the Department of Education; the rest are appointed by the Governor, with the consent of the state senate. Gov. Tom Corbett and his designated representative, Jennifer Branstetter, a public relations executive, serve on both Penn State and SSHE boards. Most of the other members are lawyers or senior business executives. One of them, Kenneth M. Jarin, who served as chair for six years and is currently a member, is a lawyer who represents management in labor issues.

The lack of at least one representative of labor on the SSHE Board of Governors is because of “a lack of sensitivity to the labor point of view,” says Dr. Stephen Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF), which represents 6,400 faculty. Dr. Hicks, who has tried to get the Board to include a faculty member, says that when a Board has most of its members “who have run a business and made money, you get a certain viewpoint.”

Richard Bloomingdale says he’s proposed to the boards and governor persons who could effectively represent the working class, “but they were always turned down.”

Even one representative, says Bloomingdale, “would still leave the Boards with heavy pro-business orientations.”

There is no question that politics and a pro-business or anti-labor philosophy has left working class Pennsylvanians with no representation on the boards of universities that are designated as “the people’s universities.”

Unfortunately, the lack of labor representation is the case at almost every public university in America.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning reporter and syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest book is the novel, Before the First Snow, primarily set in Pennsylvania. It is a look at the counterculture between 1964 and 1991, with a social justice and pro-labor focus. Disclosure: Dr. Brasch is professor emeritus of mass communications from the SSHE system.]

 

           

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