By Mary Cunningham
The late, great Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post, used to say:
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
And nowhere is that truer than at Penn State where a group of alumni-elected trustees are demanding to know everything about the dreaded consent decree the university signed with the NCAA three years ago.
Different factions within the Penn State board are taking sides over a reported offer of a deal between the university and the NCAA.
On Monday, alumni-elected trustees Anthony Lubrano (left) and Al Lord sent a letter to chairman Keith Masser about the alleged “settlement offer.”
“We have learned that Penn State has made a proposal to the NCAA. Unfortunately, my efforts to confirm this with Chair Masser have been unsuccessful thus far,” Lubrano said in a statement.
Lubrano said the offer in question is not about settling a lawsuit. The university and the college sports oversight organization are on the same side of lawsuits like the one brought by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Treasurer Rob McCord.
The issue will come to a head today and tomorrow during meetings held at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, University Park.
At the heart of that suit, which seeks to force compliance with the Endowment Act, the law that would keep in Pennsylvania the $60 million fine the NCAA levied after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, is the consent decree by which Penn State agreed to the raft of punishments.
Lubrano and Lord’s letter accused the board of “regularly operat(ing) in a disturbingly secretive and non-inclusive manner” that led them to demand disclosure of “terms in the McCord/Corman/NCAA litigation” proposed by the university.
Masser fired back with a statement that they were wrong.
“First, the suppositions that you present in your letter are incorrect.” he said. However the rest of the statement is vague about just what was “incorrect.”
“Second, as you are aware, the (b)oard created a subcommittee on (l)egal to oversee and provide guidance with respect to university legal matters,” Masser said. That subcommittee meets weekly to discuss “outstanding legal matters.”
“When it is appropriate to bring a matter to the full board for its information or action, I trust that the Legal Subcommittee will do so. With respect to the Corman v. NCAA litigation, you have previously been informed that any proposed settlement would be brought to the board for its approval,” Masser said. “Finally, it would be very damaging to the university to publicly discuss the possible terms of settlement of any litigation under discussion or consideration by the parties.”
Lubrano was unimpressed with Masser’s reply in an interview with the Centre Daily Times of State College.
“I will not allow what happened in 2012 to happen again,” he said, referring to the signing of the consent decree, which was accepted by then-president Rodney Erickson “with input from legal counsel and members of the executive committee of the board of trustees,” according to the university’s website.
Corman responded that he remains focused on the Feb. 17 trial date set for the case in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg.
“To date, I have not agreed to any settlement or proposed resolution. While I am open to conversations on possible resolution, to be sure, any settlement will be judged on what is best for the commonwealth,” Corman said in his statement.
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship also released a statement on the development, saying any behind-closed-doors nature of the suggested proposal could violate Pennsylvania’s sunshine laws.
“In excluding their fellow trustees from this discussion, the trustees behind this new agreement are flouting the recommendations of the Freeh report that they so strongly supported,” PS4RS spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt wrote. “Our 40,000 members want to shine the court’s spotlight into the dark corners of the original consent decree and hold accountable those who fraudulently scapegoated the entire Penn State community for the criminal actions of one man.”
Discussions of pending litigation and lawsuit resolution are one of the areas that sunshine laws do give agencies permission to discuss in private.