You are currently viewing My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting August 15, 2023

My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting August 15, 2023

  • Post last modified:September 12, 2023

A new General Council was presented for approval and I had questions.

The Penn State Board of Trustees met Tuesday, August 15th, 2023 via video-conference. This was was an off-cycle meeting with the sole agenda item of hiring a new Vice President/General Counsel (Penn State’s chief legal advisor).

At the August 15th meeting there were 28 out of 36 voting trustees in attendance online. Those not in attendance: Ali Krieger, Christa Hasenkopf, Ted Brown (Alumni Trustees); Karen Quintos, Richard Sokolov (Business & Industry Trustees); Valerie Detwiler (Agriculture Trustee); Terry Pegula (Governor Appointed Trustee); Cynthia Dunn (Secretary of PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources).

To read the full published agenda click here. The video of the meeting is available here. The agenda had one action item.

  • Action Item 1: Recommendation for Approval of Vice President and General Counsel
    Tabitha Oman was presented as the sole candidate for consideration as Penn State’s new General Counsel, replacing the retiring Frank Guadagnino.  

My comments:

Prior to this  meeting, I, and the vast majority of the members of the Board, were not given the opportunity to meet with any candidates. We were also not given the opportunity to provide input on the qualifications and expertise we would like to see in our next General Counsel.

I did express concerns regarding the presented candidate’s lack of experience in higher education, which is limited to one year as Penn State’s Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. I was unable to ascertain if any other candidates had more experience, and why it wasn’t considered beneficial given the unique situations a university like Penn State often faces.

I also questioned the nature of the search, and the method by which Penn State’s contracted outside consulting firm, Korn Ferry, conducted the search. What were the explicit parameters Korn Ferry used to screen candidates? Were their diversity objectives in legal compliance with Penn State’s Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Statement*, and the US Supreme Court ruling issued during the search phase of this hire?

I did not receive satisfactory answers to my questions.

For these reasons I voted NO to the proposal.

Vote – Yea: 26  Nay: 1 (Fenchak)  Abstain: 1 (Lubrano)

* “Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status.” Full text can be read here.

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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