America’s second president, John Adams, is often cited for the above quote, which I learned in school as a 12-year old. The implication of those words was that not only were all men created equal, but the laws of our government would be applied equally—a very comforting thought.
It never occurred to me until forty years later, as a PASSHE University president, that not only were there cases where laws weren’t applied equally, there were actually cases where laws weren’t applied at all! This latter failure was something I had never seen before, but the evidence for it was so plentiful and undeniable that it introduced me to the word “malfeasance.”
From Dictionary.com, “Malfeasance is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law.” If a group of public officials decided to ignore the law, without a public explanation of any kind, what could be more contrary to law than that?
And that is exactly the situation the evidence was forcing me to face—public officials plainly ignoring a law that hundreds of thousands PASSHE students, parents and alumni were seriously counting on.
Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
In the two centuries between the births of John Adams and Frank Zappa, much had changed in America. Sadly, Zappa’s cynical modification of Adams’ quote appears recently to be all too true.
In previous blog posts we have described the failure of the PASSHE Board of Governors—consisting solely of elected officials and appointees of elected officials—to preserve or deliver the Act 188 statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania: “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.” Our goal in this blog is not to rehash the evidence but, instead, to itemize and discuss the options available to citizens whose elected officials ignore the law.
Legislative Censure and Impeachment
Example 1: The Federal Level. United States’ presidents take an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States which, it is said, also contains an implicit obligation for every citizen, including the president, to obey the duly enacted laws of the land. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to censure or to impeach a president for alleged misdeeds.
Censure is a public rebuke of the president which can come from either the House or Senate while impeachment, which is an indictment emanating from the House, leads to the president’s trial in the Senate and, upon conviction, would result in the removal of the president from office.
President Richard Nixon, for example, was impeached on three counts: Obstruction of Justice; Abuse of Power; and Contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned as president on August 9, 1974 thereby avoiding trial in the Senate where his removal from office was widely anticipated.
Example 2: The State Level. State governors also take oaths of office to support and defend the State’s constitution and, in a manner similar to that at the Federal level, various States enable impeachment of their governor by the legislature according to their respective constitutions.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached on a single count of “Abuse of power” originating in the House and was subsequently convicted by the Senate in a unanimous (59-0) vote and was removed from office and barred from holding future public office in Illinois.
In both of the above examples, the public outrage that accompanied news reports of their alleged misdeeds was so intense that legislators were strongly motivated to impeach and convict both men.
Only three U.S. presidents have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and William Clinton. Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted by the Senate, and Nixon resigned from office before his trial in the Senate could begin.
Twelve governors have been impeached between 1862 and 2009 and all but two were removed from office or resigned under threat of removal. Allegations of public corruption were the most common reason for the impeachment of State governors.
The Instant Case
The failure of the PASSHE Board of Governors to preserve and deliver the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania is not likely to result in a legislative censure, much less impeachment, of a sitting Pennsylvania governor for at least two reasons: 1) the policy of ignoring the Act 188 statutory purpose of the 14 PASSHE Universities appears to have solid support by Pennsylvania’s elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, in the Legislature and in the Governor’s mansion; and 2) there has so far been no public outrage over the failure of those elected officials to obey the mandate of Act 188: "High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students."
PASSHE has a total of 174 seats on its governance boards. Five of twenty seats on the Board of Governors are held by elected officials; the remaining fifteen, plus all 154 trustees spread across the 14 Councils of Trustees are appointed through the normal Harrisburg patronage system in which the political supporters of elected officials routinely receive those appointments.
The Majority Stakeholders (PASSHE students, parents and alumni donors) provide 75% of PASSHE’s annual revenue; the Minority Stakeholder (the State in the person of its elected and appointed officials) provides 25% of PASSHE’s annual revenue.
The Bottom Line
1. PASSHE’s Majority Stakeholders currently get saddled with “75% Pay and 0% Say;”2. PASSHE’s Minority Stakeholders currently enjoy “25% Pay and 100% Say.”
3. At private universities, individuals get on governance boards by making donations to universities!
4. At PASSHE universities, individuals get on the governance boards by making donations to politicians!
To be continued.