You are currently viewing My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Committee Meetings January 18, 2024

My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Committee Meetings January 18, 2024

  • Post last modified:January 29, 2024

The Penn State Board of Trustees held committee meetings on Thursday January 18th, 2024 in an online format, with the public invited to link in to the livestream. The committees that held public meetings were Legal, Academic Affairs, Human Resources, Governance, and Outreach.

Governance: 

I would like to draw your attention to the Board Reform Working Group report. The full video can be found here, and I urge you to watch it in its entirety: Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning Meeting – Penn State MediaSpace (kaltura.com).  My comments begin around the 13:00 minute mark.

There is important context for my comments:

At the Penn State Board of Trustees Retreat (an annual private, closed event with no meeting minutes taken) last August it was decided that a ‘Board Reform Working Group’ should be formed to improve Board functionality. 

Trustee Board Chairman Matt Schuyler then selected the trustees who are members of this working group. The group is chaired by Trustee Julie Anna Potts, and includes Trustees Mary Lee Schneider and Jay Paterno, both of whom commented on camera during the update.

Concerned about the group’s premise, I have repeatedly requested access to at least observe the group’s deliberations, with the intention of informing myself about their goals and objectives.

The Working Group Chair Potts and Board Chair Schuyler have repeatedly prevented me from observing Working Group closed meetings. As a fiduciary, I find the reasons for this secrecy and lack of access to the Working Group disconcerting, especially because the Penn State Board of Trustees is being sued for violations of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act for alleged illegal meetings and I (along with the rest of the Trustees) are named as defendants.  It is noteworthy that Trustees can personally be subjected to criminal fines if found to have willfully violated the Act.

In the linked video, Trustee Potts reports that while the Working Group has been working diligently and making tremendous progress, there was no information or update to be shared (the meeting agenda had called for an update from that group).

This was the first chance I have had to interact with the working group and raise questions and concerns I have that could be coming from an uninformed perspective (video, starting at 13:00).

During our conversation, Trustee Potts mentioned that one discussion topic was: “How do we bring people to the Board who have the right qualifications?”

Please note, the only trustees not appointed to the 36 member Board (and thus the only ones who, I presume, don’t have the ‘right qualifications’) are the nine alumni-elected trustees and the six trustees selected through the Agricultural caucus. 

My concern is that, if my presumption is correct, a logical outcome of this investigation would be enabling Board leadership to set arbitrary screening and selection standards for these positions, beyond those qualifications set in the current bylaws.

Trustee Potts also stressed in her comments that another working group topic was “developing a comprehensive Code of Conduct [for trustees] that includes some more robust enforcement mechanisms.” Since, as mentioned above, the Board is being sued for alleged illegal activity, Trustee Potts might have a point. But I fail to see how these two issues advance the goal of improving Board performance.

A note: due to confidentiality I cannot disclose specific content of the survey Trustee Schneider refers to that was taken at the August retreat, but I took the survey.  In my recollection, there were no queries that related to perceptions of Board performance, which she refers to.

From my vantage point I continue to have concerns that the processes the working group is examining will not have a positive impact on the University.

I would like to hear your views on the subject. Please email me at barry@barryfenchak.com

Academic Affairs:

The full video can be found here: Committee on Academic Affairs, Research and Student Life Meeting – Penn State MediaSpace (kaltura.com)
My comments begin at the 34:30 minute mark

There were no governance issues on the agenda. The agenda called for readouts from Penn State’s administrators regarding the current enrollment climate, enrollment challenges with the Commonwealth Campuses, and an update from Penn State’s new Dean for the College of Medicine.

During the meeting, I raised an important issue regarding Penn State’s ongoing commitment to not requiring the submission of aptitude test scores (SATs, ACTs) in the admission process.

My concerns are that since going to the ‘test-optional’ approach, Penn State students admitted without these scores have demonstrated to be several times more likely to fail classes, more likely to be placed on academic probation, and more likely to require registration in remedial courses which cost the student a lot of time and money, and do nothing to further their attainment of a college degree.

Legal:

The full video of the meeting can be found here:
Committee on Legal and Compliance Meeting – Penn State MediaSpace (kaltura.com)
My comments begin at approximately the 13:15 minute mark.

Outreach:

The full video can be found here:
Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations Meeting – Penn State MediaSpace (kaltura.com)
Discussion topics included efforts taken to increase turnout in Alumni Trustee elections and fundraising. 

As a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, I will from time to time be made aware of certain confidential information.  I will also engage with Trustees and administrators in private, off-the-record conversations, with the expectation of privacy on both parties. I take these expectations seriously, as they are required in order to catalyze important discussions.As a fiduciary, it is also important that I engage in conversations with all stakeholders of the University. Stakeholders like you.  Discussions will involve publicly available information and issues before the Board, as well as my personal thoughts, concerns, and ideas. I also will continue to solicit your thoughts, concerns, and ideas, and plan to engage in meaningful conversations with you on those topics. I hope that you will continue to share your concerns and ideas with me.
You can contact me via my website, barryfenchak.com. 

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