A trustee finally gets honest, but alumni rail

Published June 19, 2012

Keith Masser emerged from relative anonymity in January when he became vice president of the Board of Trustees. By all accounts, he’s a mild-mannered farmer from east-central Pennsylvania who never seeks the spotlight.

But that changed last weekend, when he became one of the first trustees to say something honest about the Sandusky scandal. After prosecutors announced they uncovered new evidence against Spanier, Curley and Schultz, Masser confirmed what many of us just recently started to believe: that it now looks like “top administration officials and top athletic officials were involved in making the decision to not inform the proper authorities.”

“I hope the truth comes out, and from a board standpoint it was Judge Freeh’s investigation that found these emails that relate Spanier, Curley and Schultz to the suspected cover-up,” he said. “I want the alumni to understand and the stakeholders to understand that this independent investigation is uncovering this information.”

His take on the previously unknown e-mails and file is simply a common-sense evaluation of the few publicly available facts. While we don’t know much about the documents’ contents, their existence tells us that the Spanier administration didn’t look too hard when prosecutors asked for this information long ago. We also know that Spanier, Curley and Schultz went to greater lengths in addressing the 2001 allegations than they’ve led led people to believe.

It’s surprising and highly unusual for any trustee to talk about anything related to the board outside of a board meeting. Board rules essentially prohibit individuals from saying anything but boilerplate rhetoric packed into a carefully tailored press release.

That’s why Masser’s comments are such a watershed moment. They marked the first time since November that any board member has broken the code of silence and offered their view of the truth.

With all the talk about creating transparency and openness, you would think alumni would laud his honesty and willingness to say something other than what the institution allows.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. For his courage to say something his fellow trustees no doubt didn’t appreciate, Masser was rewarded with insults in the social media circuits, and even calls for his resignation.

“What an idiot,” wrote Bill Gleason, of West Caldwell, N.J., in a Penn State Alumni Facebook group. “The BOT Morons just don’t understand when to just SHUT UP!”

“Mr. Potato Head,” wrote Jeff Simmons, in childish remark posted on Facebook.

“Why on earth would they feed the media spin before all the cards are on the table?” wrote Michelle Murosky Davis, the pioneering leader of activist group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

Perhaps the strongest anti-Masser response came from Davis’ group, which, in a statement yesterday, called on Masser to “apologize, retract his statement, and resign his post.” But its anti-trustee position is already well established, and the call for his resignation isn’t surprising. If a trustee sneezed in the wrong direction, this group would call on him or her to resign.

Instead of berating him, we should point to Masser as an example, and encourage other trustees to engage in similar, honest dialogue. Perhaps this is the beginning of a trustee culture change. It always starts with one individual who’s willing to part with the pack and do what’s right. Masser might be that guy.

But I fear the backlash will only encourage him and other trustees clam up even more.

  • Anonymous

    My beef w/Masser’s remarks is that he implies (states?) that the BoT was not in on discussions among Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and the counsel. I think at the very least, someone on the BoT executive committee was involved. I wish they would just say there’s an ongoing investigation and leave it at that.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, I just don’t think Masser was one of the people who knew about the allegations. Of course, I could be wrong, but he’s not one of the board’s power players. Ed Hintz and Cynthia Baldwin were president and vice president of the board, respectively, in 2001, when the allegation was made. Start with them.

  • JT

    I think the issue is that the Freeh investigation is supposed to be INDEPENDENT and the BOT said they’d get the report AT THE SAME TIME the public did. Masser’s comments imply Freeh is giving the BOT info ahead of everyone else and is therefore not unbiased.

    • Anonymous

      Yep. The trustees didn’t say they wouldn’t stop communicating with Freeh altogether. They just said we’d see the report at the same time they did. Few people, including me, will trust the completeness of that report anyway, which is why we need more trustees to speak out about what they know, not fewer.