Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A polarizing figure emerges in normally quiet vote for Penn State board

The contest for an alumni seat on Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees usually is a genteel affair that does not arouse great interest, even among graduates who are fervent about the school's academic fortunes and its typically powerful football team.

Anthony P. Lubrano has separated himself from the pack with his ardent, outspoken campaigning. ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press
Anthony P. Lubrano has separated himself from the pack with his ardent, outspoken campaigning. ALEX BRANDON / Associated PressRead more

The contest for an alumni seat on Pennsylvania State University's board of trustees usually is a genteel affair that does not arouse great interest, even among graduates who are fervent about the school's academic fortunes and its typically powerful football team.

This year is different. Happy Valley is convulsed by a still-unfolding child sex-abuse scandal that led to the unceremonious ouster of revered football coach Joe Paterno, who died within months, and the indictment of his former top aide, Jerry Sandusky, whose trial is scheduled to start June 5.

This weekend, the annual Blue-White intrasquad football game has had to share the stage with politicking. More than 80 candidates are vying for three open alumni seats on the 32-member board, which has become a lightning rod for criticism.

Some board candidates blame trustees for acting precipitously in firing a beloved coach.

Others say the board failed to exercise proper institutional control, allowing administrators to cover up the scandal, which also led to the firing of longtime president Graham B. Spanier and the departures of athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz. Both were charged with lying to a grand jury about Sandusky's activities.

Franco Harris, who starred at running back at Penn State under Paterno and later for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has called for the entire board to be replaced.

Board members have uncharacteristically spoken out about what they view as questionable behavior by a front-runner for election to the board - Anthony P. Lubrano, a wealthy businessman and school donor from Glenmoore, Chester County. His name is already on the school's 5,400-seat baseball park after he pledged $2.5 million to build it.

Balloting began by e-mail this month and continues until early May. About 20,000 alumni have voted for candidates to fill the unpaid but powerful positions overseeing the university, which has a $4 billion budget. More than 190,000 graduates are eligible to vote.

While the alumni race has attracted a number of well-known candidates, such as former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro, now a lawyer and politician, and Jayne Miller, an investigative TV reporter from Baltimore, Lubrano has separated himself from the pack with his ardent and outspoken campaigning. He is one of the few candidates regularly quoted in news stories about developments affecting the school.

He has argued especially loudly that Paterno was unfairly treated by the board, and he demanded that it resign.

He makes the point repeatedly in a five-minute campaign documentary and Paterno appreciation that started to air in the State College-Altoona market surrounding the campus at a cost, he said, of $25,000.

But Lubrano, some trustees and university employees say, is the one who deserves the criticism.

They say he has been discourteous to female employees in the athletic department, belligerent toward investigators hired by Penn State to unravel the sex-abuse scandal, and deliberately rude to board members.

"I've had a couple interactions with him, and the conversations were always sort of an aggressive nature," said Paul Silvis, a trustee and businessman from the State College area.

Silvis said he was concerned that such "loose cannon" behavior would not be appropriate for a member of the board of trustees.

Besides seeking to replace the board, Lubrano wants to get rid of interim athletic director David Joyner, a former football player named to his current job after Curley left.

One incident involving Lubrano is particularly disturbing, board members say, and illustrates how contentious matters have become on campus.

The night before Paterno was buried in January, Lubrano approached a team of investigators from a firm run by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh.

The encounter at a restaurant at the Nittany Lion Inn apparently was so disturbing to one of the lead investigators that he wrote an e-mail to the board of trustees outlining his concerns.

Lubrano, the investigator wrote, used foul language, appeared to be "inebriated," and "confronted them in a belligerent manner," according to the e-mail obtained by The Inquirer.

"Initially, he accused our teammates of being a part of some other 'f---ing firm,' the e-mail said. "After apparently guessing that our teammates were part of the special investigative counsel team, he asked why the team would not make our final report public before providing it to the board."

The investigators did not answer him, according to the e-mail. Franco Harris, who was also at the restaurant, "separated Lubrano" from the investigators and "apologized for Lubrano's conduct," the e-mail said.

Lubrano vehemently disputed the account.

He said he was not drunk - and does not drink.

He also denied that Harris separated them.

"I walked away," he said.

He called the criticism "unfounded."

"These guys don't want me on the board. This is what we get," he said.

Harris, who is supporting Lubrano for a trustee seat, said: "No way was Anthony confronting anyone. I didn't have to step in doing anything concerning anybody. I'm quite disturbed that they would say something like that."

Three sources in the athletic department complained of Lubrano's treatment of women, including one incident in which he is alleged to have called a secretary a "dumb bitch" after she asked him to spell his name.

"To say that I'm afraid of him is accurate," the source said.

"It's patently untrue," Lubrano said, then hung up, refusing to answer more questions.

Another employee recounted an instance in which Lubrano was so stern with a female student intern that she cried.

Behavior of this sort is alleged in papers filed in his 2011 divorce in Chester County. The lawyer for his wife, Sara Jane, described Lubrano's behavior as "increasingly threatening" in an Aug. 31 letter to Lubrano's lawyer that is part of the divorce file.

"Before Sara Jane left on vacation last week," wrote attorney Jennifer Brandt, "she found that the air was let out of two of her tires. I advised Sara Jane to seek a restraining order if this behavior on the part of Anthony continues."

Lubrano, 51, who runs a financial services company, A.P. Lubrano & Co. Inc., is running as part of a ticket backed by a group known as Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

Lubrano is a 1982 graduate whose corporate biography describes him as a varsity baseball player, as does his application for trustee. For several years, the school's baseball media guide has been calling him a four-time letter winner from 1979 to 1982. The athletic department's website entry for the park also until recently called Lubrano a letter winner. The website of the local pro baseball team, the Spikes, which plays at the same park, still does.

But Lubrano has acknowledged that he neither lettered nor played in an official game, but was on the equivalent of the "practice squad." His name never appeared on the official roster, according to university spokesman Bill Mahon.

Lubrano said earlier this year that he did not know about the media guide and asserted that he never claimed anything untrue. But he also said he felt he had no obligation to correct the record - a stance ridiculed by, a national sports website, which has also taken a shot at his video.

"Phony Penn State Baseball Star and Potential Trustee Made an Absurd Campaign Video," said a recent headline on the site.

Penn State trustees are taking what Lubrano says seriously.

Board chair Karen Peetz received a phone call from Lubrano that upset some trustees who heard the message, according to a university source.

"I have an upcoming press conference," Lubrano said, according to an e-mailed transcript of the message. "I prefer not to say bad things about her, but if she does not return my call this weekend, she'll be forcing my hand."

"This is very unfortunate," said Keith W. Eckel, a longtime trustee and Lackawanna County farmer. "It's very sad that Mr. Lubrano has resorted to threatening tactics to achieve some goal. . . . There is no room for this type of alleged activity in leadership in any organization and at any level."