Unwarranted praise for Karen Peetz

Published June 11, 2012

It’s been a few weeks since my last missive. Since then I got married in Maryland, and with the wedding behind me, I’m enjoying some much-deserved time off from the insane workflow that defined my first five months of the year. Now I have some more time to devote to watching Penn State news, which means ….

I’m back, whether you like it or not.

And today, I’m a little perplexed by a recent commentary by Penn State Faculty Senate Chairman Larry Backer, which called the trustees “more engaged and transparent” after trustees’ President Karen Peetz released a letter to alumni. “It provides an indication of the emergence of a new governance culture on the Board of Trustees,” Backer wrote. He called the letter “part of a good start.”

It’s strange, because Peetz’s letter lacked any news, substance or shred of an indication that anyone on the board really understands alumni anger.

In it, she called May’s historic alumni trustee election a “powerful demonstration of the inclusiveness and resolve of the Board and Penn State community in addressing our current issues and preparing for future excellence.” She praised a redesigned trustee Web site, which she claims “continues our pledge for greater openness.” And Peetz said changes to the trustees’ organizational structure will “improve access to the Board, as well as the Board’s oversight of the University.”

If Karen really believes all these things, she will be perhaps the most dense Penn Stater of all time.

This year’s election was first and foremost a signal that alumni want Karen and her colleagues gone. As expected, they did quite the opposite, choosing to re-appoint Ken Frazier and Ed Hintz as so-called “business and industry trustees.”

The redesigned trustees web site looks nice, but offers no additional information, like direct contact information for sitting trustees. Without that basic information in particular, how can she claim greater openness?

And changing the board’s flow chart might look nice on paper, but does absolutely nothing to address the complete lack of leadership that continues to permeate the board.

Karen’s letter, like most board attempts to quel alumni anger, had the opposite effect. To alumni, it only reminded us that trustees have made no real progress toward systemic transparency, done nothing to improve ethics, and  refused to hold themselves accountable for the massive failure of leadership in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

That’s why I’m confused about Chairman Backer’s positive take on her comments.

Another alumnus put together the letter that Peetz should have written, and sent it to newly elected trustee Anthony Lubrano. He shared it in an activist alumni Facebook group. For your enjoyment, I’ve posted it below.


June 8, 2012

Dear Penn Stater,

The last eight months have been difficult for your Board members . . . largely as a result of our rush to judgement concerning Joe Paterno. While a solid 13% of respondents in the recent Alumni Association survey still express trust in the Board, a sorry minority of 87% expressed little or no trust in the Board. (These 87% would be, we suppose, “. . . those who may disagree.”) In addition a resounding 2% of respondents labelled the firing of Joe Paterno as an example of one of the correct actions that we took. As a result and as we expressed in our stellar NY Times interview, we grow weary of the criticism. But we look forward. We continue to avoid any kind of unconditional apology to the Paterno family and even though Sue Paterno has left the fold, we would welcome her back if only she would admit that she left. Hopefully, when the Freeh Report is issued there will be some shred of evidence that we will be able to use to justify the firing of Joe Paterno.

Continuation of our communications avoidance program remains a top priority. As you may have noticed, we have updated our web site to include a whole bunch of pretty pictures without adding any substantial new content or e-mail features. As stated in Q6 of the FAQ attached to the June 4 announcement of the new PSU Progress web site, we have been able to avoid using “modern technology and functionality” by prohibiting reader comments. While the Board’s new web site is pretty, there is still no statement of communications policy, no information on how to reach Board members via e-mail, no explanation of what the new committees are doing or when they are doing it, and no links to the individual committees or their members. We continue to avoid having to deal directly with “various constituencies.”

Of course, we will have to consult with our public relations pooh-bahs to see just how fast or if we might want to implement any e-mail links to Board members or committees. It only took us about 8 months to add the pretty pictures to our web site. We hope that as soon as the contracts with Edelman and La Torre expire we will have something else to announce. If we don’t, we will, of course, extend the PR contracts and/or hire new PR flacks to guide us and continue our promises. As you may have also noticed, we have designated David La Torre as the new PSU spokesman so that none of us have to deal with any of this crap. We plan also to continue to enrich as many public relations firms as we can before this brouhaha dies down.

Plan B is that if we are left without any PR support, we will (as we evidently have in the past) ask Tom Corbett to tell us what to do. Tom is a no nonsense decider. Of course, there is that nagging little problem of how Tom’s failure (while Attorney General) to get Jerry Sandusky off of the street as soon as he could have is any less of a “failure to do more” or moral leadership failure than we have labelled Joe Paterno’s actions. We might have to hire another PR firm to deal with that question or maybe we can avoid it forever.

In the future, as far as providing a clear communications policy is concerned, we promise to move towards a little bit of change, a little bit of reform, and a little bit of transparency. Maybe day-by-day . . . maybe month-by-month . . . maybe year-by-year . . . maybe when Tom tells us to . . . or when the Walt Disney/ESPN led pitchfork brigade yells at us. We promise to continue our search for more pretty pictures to post on the web site without getting too bogged down with modern technology and functionality and those pesky reader comments.


Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77
Chairman, Penn State Board of Trustees