Dec 15 Board of Trustees meeting: Trustee Alice Pope’s remarks

“I am sincerely sorry that our board will not have a discussion of the university’s position in the NCAA case before the trial in January. It concerns me to think that some of my fellow trustees may believe that our motivations are frivolous. Therefore, I’d like to speak about what seems to me to be the difference in the underlying thought processes that contribute to the schism on this board – not with the intention of blaming or name-calling, but in an attempt to clarify what is separating us.

I was not on the board at the time, but as it has been explained to me, the approach to managing the crisis took a page out of the corporate playbook. The board took responsibility for a set of problems they identified and took quick actions to show a commitment to correcting the problems. Several individuals were removed from their posts, and a number of compliance measures were rapidly implemented. Then, they expected the matter to blow over fairly soon. A statement was made that “by 2014 this will all be a distant memory.” Perhaps that would be true for a consumer product like Tylenol.

But we are now approaching 2015 and we are still embroiled in this crisis. The reason for that is because a great number of people who love Penn State were dissatisfied with the approach that was taken. The trustees who designed the approach to managing the crisis seem to feel that if we would stop complaining, the crisis would indeed blow over, and therefore the solution is that we should stop complaining.

Here is why we just can’t walk away.

I believe that much of the schism on this board comes from a difference in understanding of what constitutes fiduciary duty. Corporate boards serve stockholders. University boards serve stakeholders. There is a world of difference between these two approaches.

Richard Chait is a Harvard emeritus professor of education who is a national expert on higher education governance. In an interview published by the Association of Governing Boards, Dr. Chait was asked “what are the hallmarks of fiduciary behavior by college and university trustees?” His response: “fidelity to mission, integrity of operations, and conservation of core values.”

It is the conservation of core values that is a primary motivator for the alumni-elected trustees.

What are the core values of The Pennsylvania State University? I realize that the university’s values statement has recently been revised. But for most of us, that values that have inspired us and have motivated us for many decades are simple: Success with honor. That means: Excellence of scholarship, athletics, and service – accomplished with integrity.

We find the corporate approach to crisis management used in the Sandusky scandal to have sacrificed the university’s core values, in the following ways:

• We have not come to a full understanding of the complex factors that contributed to Sandusky’s victimization of children. Because we have not, we cannot use this tragic experience to honor the victims by educating others about how to protect children in the future. Further, by accepting a poor version of the truth, we have acted in ways that are unworthy of a great institution of higher learning.

• With the lawsuit under discussion today, we are permitting the NCAA to punish us, in violation of their own rules and procedures, and in so doing we accept their false claims about our culture – our values – which damaged the reputation of a university previously known as a place where integrity was embraced. We also damage our relationship with the Commonwealth by not joining with them – as they have requested – on efforts to defend the university.

• We sacrificed members of our own community for the purpose of expediency, without concern for the devastating impact on their lives.

If we do not take steps to carefully address these problems – to protect the core values of the university – we will have failed in our fiduciary duty – our stewardship – of our university.

I recognize that there are individuals, and entities, who have been favorably impressed by the corporate approach of falling on the sword and moving quickly to implement a long list of compliance initiatives.

But we must ask the question: Who are we, and who do we want to be? And how do our actions support our highest aspirations?

We are at a critical moment in the history of Penn State. I think it is fitting that we consider the challenge made by a former football coach at another critical moment in our history – the moment where the university was challenged to aspire to excellence in academics, and to use a national football championship to accomplish that.

Joe Paterno said:
“I think we are looking for the soul of this institution. The soul may be an overstatement, but I’m not sure I’m overstating the case. I think we’re literally looking for a soul. Who we are, what we are, and I think that basically comes down to soul. We need to find our soul.”

Our stewardship of our university is a sacred trust. We owe it to Penn State to come together to make a sincere effort to understand each other so we can chart the future of the university, consistent with the values that have made it the jewel in the crown of higher education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

– Penn State Trustee Alice Pope

2 thoughts on “Dec 15 Board of Trustees meeting: Trustee Alice Pope’s remarks

  1. Alice Pope has so elegantly opened the door to allow the ‘non-elected’ BOT members to come into dialogue with the Alumni elected members.

    However, speaking of fiduciary duty, what stockholder, partner, customer or client would want a food producer or a bank president to accept the first analysis of a failure/disaster/crisis, refuse a review or further discussion and insist only to move on? The question has moved on beyond football culture to basic management competence of the BOT and its ruling elite.

    Like

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