Meeting with Stephanie Deviney
March 27, 2013
This morning I met with Stephanie Deviney for coffee and to discuss Penn State with her. She lives in a neighboring town and I have written to her in her capacity as an alumni elected member of the BOT several times — three letters and one email —about the fiasco at Penn State. She is up for re-election as an alumni trustee. Based on a recent Centre Daily Times interview with several members of the BOTs, the board was encouraging alumni to open a discussion with Deviney and Suhey to work out their differences. I contacted her through her website Re-elect and she offered to meet with me for coffee. We spent almost two hours together and below are some of the things we talked about during that time.
There is much of the meeting which pleased me. Stephanie Deviney has become very active as a board member and is on several committees outside of her board committees. Her background as a litigation lawyer for the construction group at Fox Rothschild prepares her to participate in a meaningful way and her new role as Vice Chair opens other doors to more committees and to searches for significant positions at Penn State. Stephanie spoke of the many changes being made such as a new PR firm, new legal counsel, establishment of a General Counsel, new HR VP, recommended changes to the structure of the BOTs. All of these things I applaud and told her so.
We spoke of how poorly prepared Penn State and the BOT were for almost any kind of crisis, other than such things as a shooting on campus or natural disaster. The PR firm was ineffective with representatives who did not fill the needs of a large educational institution in the midst of a major crisis. The legal counsel was not specialized in matters dealing with personnel. The board was in the dark about much of what was going on such as the grand jury, Joe Paterno’s retirement plans for the end of the season, Graham Spanier’s decision to release a statement different from what was agreed upon by the Board.
I explained my background in Human Resources and how various companies for which I worked prepared managers to handle their jobs in difficult situations. We spoke of the need for education for the board members in such areas as crisis management, media relations, human resources management. When in doubt to always seek help from experts.
I spoke of how they should have talked face to face with Joe Paterno. How firing was inappropriate and there were many more avenues that could have been explored, how the silence from the board was deafening and how condemning that was. How Joe’s reputation was tarnished by the board, as was the reputation of the alumni. I must say it was difficult to hold back the tears when I spoke of Joe Paterno’s firing by telephone without speaking to him face to face, having a dialogue with him, and then looking at other more appropriate alternatives. The result of their first disastrous decision, the firing of Joe Paterno, was then compounded with mistake after mistake.
We discussed the structure of the BOT and how the changes recommended by the Board were welcome, but more changes needed to be made such as downsize the board, minimize the influence of the Governor who influences nine votes on the board, changing the way Business and Industry and Agriculture segments are elected, whether the three state secretaries should be voting members. Something I didn’t understand is that there is a mandatory 30 day review period of the formal recommendations which is why the board hasn’t voted on their current recommendations yet. Stephanie assured me that further changes were not going to be back burnered, but would continue.
Stephanie recognized that the alumni are angry and that every time the board speaks, we seem to get angrier. An example was when the board tried to clarify their position on the firing of Paterno. I readily agreed with her about it angering the alumni. I gave the simple, recent example of Suhey’s comment about just having Joe retire three weeks early. She agreed that it made a really poor impression, but that is what Suhey has believed from the beginning. I just shook my head in disbelief. She expressed concern that there seemed to be no way to get past this with the alumni and again I readily agreed with her, explaining there are 18,000 members of PS4RS (a sizable group), who firmly believe that to be true, and that we believe only the complete changeover in Board members from 2011 will allow us to begin to get behind the board.
To demonstrate how firmly I believe in this, I told her that in my will I originally was leaving 1/3 to the University. However, I have since changed that to eliminate my bequeath to the University. This is qualified with a condition. If the every board of trustees members who were on the board in November 2011 were gone from the board, then 1/3 of my estate would go to the University. She expressed sorrow in that decision, feeling that it hurts the students. I agreed, however, because of my firm opinion that the board of trustees needs to be held accountable for the multitude of mistakes they made, I had to do this. A great man, Joe Paterno, needs his legend restored.
I gave her a copy of all of my letters to her for her easy reference. When I took the time to write those letters I tried to clearly convey my thoughts and wanted her to be sure to have them. (these letters and my published editorials can be found on this www.joevpa.com website). We ended the meeting with an appreciation of each other’s opinions and with regret that we are on such opposing sides when we could well have been friends. Perhaps we still can be.
I came away from the meeting with a better understanding of the challenges facing the University and how individual board members can be involved at many different levels in the University. New members of the board will have to quickly become immersed in the workings of the University and be willing to spend a LOT of time and effort. It is a big job. It is definitely not a country club.
It is critical that the alumni elect the right people to the board; that we elect people who can commit to the job that needs to be done and who can spend the time and attention required to get the job done and represent the interests of the alumni. Our representatives must be able to work with the other board members but must keep a clear head to research, seek input, and think through the issues and make their own informed decisions on what is the right thing to do.
Our alumni trustees are critically important and need our support and our commitment -- not just verbal commitment, but through actively participating—letter writing, emailing, attending board meeting, attending legislative hearing, keeping up to date on the happenings within the board and the University, etc. It is easy to begin to think that others will take care of the necessary actions, but we can’t let that happen. Our voice can’t be a trickle. It has to be a roar that can be heard without doubt -- just as we roar We Are . . . Penn State.
We ALL have a role we can play. Luckily, unlike the time commitment required by our alumni elected board member, our roles need not have an overwhelming time commitment. Often it is just sending an email.
We must keep the pressure on to get Joe Paterno’s name cleared, to have the board acknowledge their mistakes, to have Joe’s records restored, and finally to have his rightful place in our history restored.
Our actions will be worth it.
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URL : http://www.joevpa.com/27mar2012stephanie.html