ShareThis Page
Ex-PSU trustee blasts university’s power structure |

Ex-PSU trustee blasts university’s power structure

| Monday, January 9, 2012 12:00 a.m

A former member says the secretive way Penn State University’s board of trustees operates and the power wielded by an inner circle paved the way for what some see as a leadership crisis.

Ben Novak, an alumnus who served as a trustee from 1988 to 2000 and has announced his interest in serving again, said that during his tenure the board was run by a small group of influential members with the rest of the trustees following their lead like a flock of sheep.

Novak considered himself a sheep. But he said in an interview Sunday that his fellow board members regarded him as a nut.

“I was the Ron Paul of the Penn State Board of Trustees for 12 years,” said Novak, 68, a retired lawyer and professor, referring to the Republican presidential candidate who is viewed by some in his own party as an outsider.

Novak said he was sharing his reflections in paid statements appearing in the Centre Daily Times and on his website to help shed light on his view of the inner workings of the 32-member board, which also has 16 emeritus members. Along with pushing for reforms to the university’s governance, he is promoting his candidacy for the trustees’ board.

“The simple truth is that it is not simply one bad apple that has brought the humiliating situation we face. Rather, it is the way the board of trustees has structured the whole governance of the university that has made this scandal not only possible but almost inevitable,” wrote Novak of Ave Maria, Fla.

Efforts to reach university officials and trustees’ board Chairman Steve Garban on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Novak’s ads are appearing in the State College newspaper just as efforts begin to identify potential candidates to run for the board in the first trustee elections since the child sex abuse scandal broke involving former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky.

Three alumni-controlled seats and two agricultural community-controlled seats are up for election this year. The board seats have drawn widespread interest amid the Sandusky scandal.

Alumni outraged over the trustees’ handling of the situation have formed a grassroots group, Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, that wants to unseat incumbents and demand more transparency in the university’s governance. The group respects Novak for speaking out, spokeswoman Maribeth Schmidt said.

“His work provides details on the power structure and running of the university that was previously unknown to many alumni and supporters,” she said.

Novak said divisions of power on the board were obvious when Graham Spanier was hired as university president in 1995. Spanier resigned Nov. 9 in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Longtime football coach Joe Paterno was fired the same night.

The former trustee said board members were told repeatedly the most important act of the board is hiring a president. But when it came time to hire Spanier, he said, most trustees, including himself, were kept in the dark until a final selection was made.

Novak said he first learned of Spanier’s credentials from newspaper profiles. He also reached out to one of Spanier’s antagonists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where Spanier was serving as chancellor. The antagonist admitted he had differences with the chancellor but said Spanier would make a good president.

“When I got a recommendation from his greatest antagonist, I thought I don’t have a solid basis for opposing him,” Novak said.

The bulk of the trustees met the prospective president for the first time during a cocktail hour that preceded the vote on his appointment, Novak said.

“At the cocktail hour, the entire board, a majority of whom, like myself, had never heard of Graham Spanier until a few days before, had an average of barely two minutes each to say hello and shake his hand,” Novak wrote.

“Immediately after the cocktail hour, the board filed into the next room and, as the first order of business, dutifully voted him in as the next president of The Pennsylvania State University. Baaa.”

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.