Public Comment by Peggi Munkittrick – January 18, 2013 Board of Trustees Meeting

Public Comment by Peggi Munkittrick. Peggi’s full comment is below. Items in italize were not read during the public comment period to allow the speaker to remain within the 3 minute time limit permitted.

Good afternoon, and thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak.  My name is Peggi Munkittrick and the first thing you need to know about me is that I have no affiliation to Penn State University.  I have 4 degrees in education (the latest being a doctorate in Educational Administration) none of which came from Penn State.  I am not an alumna.  I am not a student.  I have never worked for Penn State.  Until this year, I never attended a Penn State sporting event.  I never met Joe Paterno.  The name Jerry Sandusky meant nothing to me.  I had no interest in college football.

So it would be reasonable for folks to wonder why I’m here.  To understand that, you need to know what I’m passionate about.  I’m passionate about public education, both secondary and post-secondary.  In addition to spending 15 years of my professional career as a teacher, I have 12 years of service (and continue to serve) as a Board Member and past-President of the Towanda Area School District.  Until receiving my doctorate at the age of 52, I had been a continuously enrolled student for every year of my life since the age of 5.  Education, the pursuit of knowledge, research, and “open and public” discourse are core values that I hold dear.

Unfortunately, when news of the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit State College, I saw none of that.  Accusations, hysteria, rage, and a “rush to judgment” seemed to rule the day.  The proposed narrative that key members of the Penn State administration knowingly participated in a cover-up strained credulity.  No reasonable or rational person could possibly accept that scenario.  Certainly, I thought, an investigation would be launched and due process would be afforded to those accused of wrong-doing. I expected the YOU to demand a full and complete investigation.  I expected YOU to defend your University.  I expected YOU to do right by the victims by making sure that anyone responsible was held accountable.  Instead, Joe Paterno was fired and the football team was slammed with unprecedented sanctions. To this day, I can not understand how either of those actions makes State College a safer place for children.

So that brings me to why I’m here today.  Clearly, failures occurred in Happy Valley.  Upcoming trials and investigations will hopefully identify what those failures were and appropriate actions will be taken.  However, it is also clear – at least to me – that one of the “fail points” in this story rests with this Board.  To be fair, it would be unrealistic to expect that any Board would be prepared to handle the public relations nightmare you were faced with.  At the same time, it appeared (admittedly from an outsider’s viewpoint), that you couldn’t have handled it worse had you tried.  With that said, I do acknowledge that each of you has achieved outstanding success in your professional careers.  Individually, you are smart, ambitious, intelligent people who did what you thought was right under the most trying of circumstances.  I thank you for that.  Unfortunately, if one accepts that the failure doesn’t belong with each of you as individuals, then the only reasonable alternative is that it belongs to the group of you, collectively.

With that said, I believe that the failure occurred as a result of a board structure that, over time, no longer supported the ideals of open and transparent governance.  Your operational practices slowly, but surely, allowed pockets of power and influence to be created that ultimately proved to be unhealthy for the board as a whole. Because of that, it is my personal opinion that the Penn State Board of Trustees is in desperate need of governance reform. 

You have a unique, but critically important, opportunity to strengthen oversight and gain public confidence in how Penn State will move forward as the most influential and highly regarded educational entity in our Commonwealth. In fact, it is your obligation to do so.

In that spirit, I urge you to support the following reforms as recommended by Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner:

  • The President and the Governor should be ex-officio, non-voting members of the Board;
  • The Board should be downsized to include no more than 21 members;
  • A quorum should be defined as a simple majority (> 50% of the board);
  • Board members should have term limits of no more than 9 years; and finally,
  • Penn State should practice transparency by choosing to fully comply with Pennsylvania’s “Right to Know” laws.

Again, thank you for providing me this opportunity to speak.

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