You are currently viewing My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting November 10, 2023

My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting November 10, 2023

  • Post last modified:November 15, 2023

The Penn State Board of Trustees met Thursday and Friday, November 9th and 10th 2023 at the Eric Barron Innovation Center.  All trustees except Ali Krieger (Alumni Trustee) and Khalid Mumin (PA Secretary of Education) were in attendance.

There was one voting item on the Friday public meeting agenda, but several other items of note. Read the full published agenda here, and supporting materials here. The video of the meeting is available here

As a service to alumni and the public who were unable to access the live broadcast of the meeting, the following is an excerpt of the comments I prepared and the vote results for each agenda item.

Prior to Friday’s full Board meeting, on Thursday there was a public Audit Committee meeting (agenda) and a public Finance Committee meeting (agenda). At the end of the public Finance Committee meeting, I made the following comments regarding the lack of information on the Beaver Stadium renovation project:

When I saw the agenda for today’s committee meeting, I found it interesting that seven or eight months after raising concerns and being told adamantly by board leadership that multiple meetings would be convened to discuss the options and alternatives regarding Beaver Stadium, whether they be options of larger scale or smaller scale than the $700 million renovation project.”And to date, there have been zero of those meetings by this committee where one might expect those to be brought up or any others.

“And in the meantime, we’ve had statements from Penn State leadership clearly announcing that the $700 million project, as far as they were concerned, was moving forward (examples: Penn State press release October 16, 2023, goPSUsports, Populous statement).

This is, of course, the largest single capital expenditure in the history of the university. And that despite no deliberations on such options and alternatives occurred within the board. I could reference some of those statements from Penn State administration, but I won’t do that now.

“So as very vigorously stated by board leadership, when and where will this committee or others engage in those public deliberations? Or was that a misstatement on the part of board leadership? Or did something change?

“Is that a breakdown of communications between the board and the administration in that regard? So I’ll leave it at that and send any more detailed comments and concerns forward in writing. But if you have any comments on that or responses.”

Trustee Rob Fenza, chair of the committee, replied: “Sometimes, you know, there are things that get into the paper that maybe aren’t ready for prime time.”

Matt Schuyler, Chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees: “Yeah, I think… the news is ahead of the facts and not grounded.”

The full transcript of the conversation is available here. I encourage you to read it, it’s interesting.

Frankly, I am far more than disconcerted with the seemingly aimless and muddled process by which this huge spend is progressing. There seems to be no plan or deliberation whatsoever. As a trustee of the university, I am very concerned about the obfuscation and unwillingness of the Penn State administration to provide requested information on this project, which as a fiduciary is my right and duty to request.

This lack of public deliberation, which is now being blamed on ‘miscommunication between the Board and the administration’, validates my initial concerns. The lack of significant interest on the part of many of my Board colleagues only increases the serious concerns I have about this process.

Friday, November 10, 2023 public meeting of the full Board

  • Action Item 1: Proposed Project Approval, Nursing Sciences Building Renovation and Addition, University Park

This is a $28 million expenditure to perform some major maintenance and additions to the Nursing Sciences Building.  The financing is intended to come from $10 million of philanthropy, $10 million of borrowing, and $8 million from reserves. 

This project the 44 year old Nursing Sciences Building, which includes renovating 25,000 sq ft of existing space in the 44 year old Nursing Science Building, and adding a wing with additional classroom and instructional space. It will also address some of the significant backlog of maintenance items which have been left unattended. 

This inattention to so much maintenance throughout our physical plant is, I believe, an important issue for the University to address. Building brand new facilities to replace those which have been let fall into disrepair is why our capital budget is so seriously depleted (see here and here). The maintenance backlog must be addressed.

That said, graduating more trained nursing students is, in my opinion, a significant need for both the University and the Commonwealth. 

I had no public comments and voted ‘Yea’.

Vote – Yea: 34   Nay: 0

The November Board meeting is also the time in the annual cycle when the Board elects leadership for the coming year. Currently, the Board is led by Matthew Schuyler (At Large Appointee) as the Board Chair, and David Kleppinger (Governor Appointee) as the Board Vice Chair. Both have been in their positions for three years.  No Board Chair or Vice Chair in recent history have asked for, or been given, four years in those positions.

Prior to the meeting, no other Trustees had put their name forward to be considered for those positions.  That, in and of itself, is troubling.

The process for the elections does allow for nominations to be made from the floor on the day of the meeting, and I did that. It was my honor to nominate from the floor Dr Khalid Mumin, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, for the position of Vice-Chair of the Penn State Board of Trustees.

While ballots are cast in secret, I can share that I did vote for Trustee Mumin for the position of Vice Chair. When the ballots were tabulated, Dr Mumin received my vote for Vice Chair, and also received one vote for Chair. (The results were reported in error at the live meeting, but will be corrected when the official minutes of the meeting are published).

My statement nominating Trustee Mumin:

“An institution like Penn State will always face significant challenges and opportunities.

Currently, as I believe we are all aware—and as exemplified by the ongoing funding discussions in Harrisburg—the importance of maintaining and strengthening the long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has never been more important.

In addition, fully embracing our commitments under the Sunshine Act has become increasingly important.  I expect that by now all Trustees have reviewed the letter we received from the RCFP (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) *, and I’m sure we all recognize that as a high priority.

Board Leadership, with the experience to help us with both of those issues, would be a big advantage. Trustee Khalid Mumin is in a unique position to provide that.

And so I am very pleased to nominate Trustee Mumin, a person who also has a long and distinguished record of achievement in educational administration and oversight. Including overcoming significant fiscal and budgetary challenges – and elevating the least-advantaged students to higher educational achievement.

With that I will nominate Trustee Khalid Mumin for the role of Penn State Board of Trustees Vice Chairperson.”

*Letter from RCFP, outlining, in great detail and specificity, their concerns related to current Board leadership’s failure to operate within the requirements of the Sunshine Act can be found here: Spotlight PA: Penn State University is violating the Sunshine Act (rcfp.org)  

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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