Record Turnout Expected For Penn St.Trustees Vote
ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Thousands of Penn State graduates angered over the way the Board of Trustees handled the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal will finally get to do something about it, casting ballots for three open alumni seats in a hotly contested election with dozens of candidates.
A record 86 candidates are vying for spots on a board that has been roundly criticized for firing coach Joe Paterno over his handling of an abuse allegation against Sandusky, a retired football assistant charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. He has denied the allegations.
Voting begins Tuesday and runs through 9 a.m. May 3, with results to be announced at the May 4 Board of Trustees meeting. All alumni – more than 550,000 strong – are eligible to cast a ballot.
Paterno’s forced departure after 61 years with the school outraged many former players and alumni, who assert the trustees rushed to judgment. Many of the trustee candidates are demanding that Penn State apologize to the Paterno family and rename Beaver Stadium in honor of the legendary coach, who died of lung cancer in January at age 85.
The board has said it removed Paterno and longtime President Graham Spanier on Nov. 9 – four days after Sandusky’s arrest – because they failed to do more to respond to a 2002 report from a graduate assistant who told Paterno he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the showers of the football building. Paterno’s supporters say he properly reported the alleged assault to his supervisor, and was scapegoated by trustees frantic to contain the fallout from the scandal.
“Joe Paterno was sacrificed and it was because of the howling mob in the media,” said 1975 graduate Barbara Doran, 58, a private wealth manager at Morgan Stanley and one of three candidates endorsed by Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni group calling for dramatic changes to the way Penn State is run.
At the same time, Doran said, she's heartened that so many people have taken an interest in university governance. A typical trustee election only draws about a half-dozen candidates.
“It says that you have amazing, dedicated, interested alumni that so care about the university they want to personally get involved,” she said.
Most candidates say the Sandusky scandal highlighted the need for a shake-up at Penn State. Their ideas include greater transparency and term limits for trustees, and a restructuring of the board to give more seats to alumni and fewer to the governor and business and agricultural interests. Alumni hold nine of the 32 seats on the board, with three elected each year for three-year terms.
Candidate Ben Novak, 69, said he's under no illusions that change will come easily, given what he said was the board's reluctance to meet with alumni groups and the fact that only three seats are up for grabs. He predicted the board will agree to minor concessions while resisting a major overhaul.
“I would hope this board would welcome any new alumni and would be very solicitous of their ideas,” said Novak, a retired attorney who served as a trustee for 12 years until 2000. But he predicted that “this board will not easily agree to most any of what the people running for the board have in mind.”
Leaders of the board have said they are reviewing options about its operating structure, and are open to suggestions.
With voters facing such a bewildering array of choices, the Penn State Alumni Association has invited all 86 contenders to a meet-the-candidates event at the main campus on April 21. The group has also distributed a three-question survey to the candidates and plans to post their responses online Monday.
“It’s our attempt to provide additional perspective, greater knowledge and greater familiarity with the candidates and their positions,” said Roger Williams, the alumni association's executive director.
Williams said he expects record voter turnout. Fewer than 12,000 ballots were cast in 2011.
Of the incumbents whose terms are expiring, only one, retired schoolteacher Anne Riley, is running for re-election. Another incumbent, former newspaper editor David Jones, has said he decided two years ago to limit his tenure on the board. The third, David Joyner, is leaving the board because he is now the school's acting athletic director.