Corbett struggled to wield influence with Penn State board
In late November 2011, Penn State’s trustees faced a leadership crisis as they began to deal with the fallout from the Sandusky scandal. Already weakened by having to delegate his duties in the first few days of the crisis, Chairman Steve Garban was preparing to leave his position as soon as the trustees elected a new chairman in the new year. Vice Chairman John Surma, the driver of the board’s decision to fire former football coach Joe Paterno and the public face of the firing, had no desire to lead.
The board’s chairman and vice chairman were set to leave in a matter of weeks, and a power vacuum was emerging. Soon, members would be jockeying for coveted roles in the new Board of Trustees.
Governor Tom Corbett, who had sought a visible role in the addressing Penn State’s crisis, wanted a hand in choosing the board’s new leader. Six days after the board fired former president Graham Spanier and Paterno, Corbett telephoned Ken Frazier, a trustee and chairman of Merck.
Eight days later, Frazier made his decision. “I just spoke with the Governor and told him that I thought standing for election wasn’t a good idea,” he told Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis in a Nov. 23, 2011 e-mail. “As you know, I have become something of a lightning rod with the PSU Faculty. Secondly, I become Chair of the Merck Board next Thursday.”
With Frazier out of the race for board chairman, the jockeying for the board’s leadership posts continued. On Jan. 6, 2012, Karen Peetz, a trustee from the group who represents business and industry, told the board she would seek the vice chairman’s seat. But there was still no clear choice for the most powerful position – the chairmanship.
When the board met on Jan. 20, it elected Peetz and Masser as the trustees’ new leaders.
Author’s note: a previous version of this blog post contained information that is currently being reviewed by the Office of Open Records to determine if it must be disclosed. It has since been removed in deference to the review process, and will be re-posted if the OOR determines the records are public records.