Key PSU Board Members Step Down

Chairman Steve Garban and vice chairman John Surma decided to not to run for another term as officers. But both will remain on Penn State's board of trustees.

The chairman and vice chairman of Penn State's Board of Trustees, who have drawn heavy criticism since the board fired Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal Nov. 8, have effectively stepped down from their positions.

At a board meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn on campus Friday, chairman Steve Garban and vice chair John Surma both said they chose not to seek election back to their positions for the coming year.

They were immediately replaced as chair and vice chair, respectively, by banking executive Karen Peetz and potato magnate Keith Masser, who both ran unopposed and both received unanimous votes from the board.

Garban and Surma, who were both eligible for one more year as board officers, each cited the increased workload from the fallout of the Sandusky scandal as their reasons for stepping down. Garban is retired and Surma is an executive with U.S. Steel. Both will remain as regular voting members of the board.

Neither met the media after the meeting.

“I want to extend thanks to Steve Garban for his role as chair for the past couple of years,” PSU president Rod Erickson said. 'He's been a steady hand and has served the board with distinction. Also, John Surma, who is stepping off as vice chair. I know the trustees would like to have had John continue in an officer role.”

Garban and Surma were the most visible members of the board during a national telecast of a hastily arranged press conference the night of Nov. 8. In it, they announced that Paterno had been fired and school president Graham Spanier had stepped down, but offered few details on exactly why.

Paterno and Spanier had both drawn public scrutiny for not doing more to bring the Sandusky scandal to light earlier. But the board would not link their dismissals directly to the scandal, only saying the two men were relieved in the best interests of the university.

Garban and Surma did not clear up Paterno's until Jan. 12, when they issued a joint statement saying at the time Paterno was fired, he “could not be expected to continue to effectively perform his duties and that it was in the best interests of the University to make an immediate change in his status.” They added that Paterno remained a tenured member of the PSU faculty and was being treated as if he had retired.

During the two-plus months when they remained silent, public criticism swayed away from Paterno and toward the board.

Peetz said the board erred in staying quiet for so long. In the past few days, members have conducted extensive interviews with various media outlets.

“Sometimes you can get over-lawyered and be concerned about the implications of things,” she said. “… Certainly, in hindsight, we wish we would have gotten into the role of speaking out (earlier) -- as we did to several press vehicles just this week. It just took us a while.”

Erickson recently held a series of town hall meetings with Penn State graduates in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York, to answer questions about the Sandusky scandal and anything else.

Peetz said those meetings would be used as a template, with the goal of improving communication.

“I and other board members will hold similar town hall meetings with students, alumni and faculty,” she said. “The more we learn, the more we can communicate our thoughts, the better.”


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