Voting begins Wednesday in the contentious election for three alumni seats on Penn State's Board of Trustees.
The trustees' race once generated little interest in the general public, let alone the Penn State alumni across the country. But that changed last year following scrutiny of the actions of university leaders in the aftermath of retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest in November 2011 on child sex abuse charges.
Any of the university's 560,000 alumni can vote, though they must first contact the Board of Trustees office. Voters can cast ballots online or through the mail.
Voting ends May 2, with results to be announced the following day at the trustees meeting.
Alumni hold nine of the 32 board seats, with terms lasting three years.
The family of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno has endorsed three candidates for the university's Board of Trustees who have the backing of an alumni group that has been critical of how university leaders handled the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
A letter from Paterno's son David Paterno dated Saturday and posted on the website of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship urges alumni "to follow (the group's) lead" in online voting for three alumni-elected seats that begins Wednesday.
The group has endorsed candidates Edward Brown, Barbara Doran and William Oldsey from the 39-candidate field. Group spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt said Monday the letter was posted over the weekend.
The letter also distanced the family from incumbent and former football player Paul Suhey, who was on the board in November 2011 when trustees fired Joe Paterno days after Sandusky's arrest. Paterno died two months later at age 85. Sandusky was convicted last summer of abusing several boys, some on Penn State's campus, but has insisted he's innocent.
Eleven former players wrote a letter to fellow ex-players last month campaigning against Suhey, a 1979 team captain. He responded with a statement in which he mentioned that "Joe Paterno taught us the importance of integrity" and that Suhey knew he was making a "stunningly unpopular decision" but still believed he made the right choice for the university he loved.
David Paterno wrote in the letter that Suhey is "actually trying to use our family name to
suggest that you can trust him."
"Penn State does need to restore its credibility and we understand why someone would invoke Joe's name to do that," the letter says. "For the record, we are not close to Paul Suhey and do not endorse him."
He said of greater importance was working for the university's future.
"The people currently there who did not take their responsibility seriously in 2011 did so because Penn State was not their priority," said the letter given to Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. The group says it has 18,000 members and describes itself as an alumni watchdog.
The campaign has exposed a rift in the Penn State football family. Suhey, in a statement Monday night said the Paterno family's "continued personal attacks" were disappointing, but that he wasn't surprised. He said the candidates endorsed in the letter were strictly focused on issues related to Joe Paterno.
"These attacks have no place at Penn State. They continue to distract from the serious issues our university faces," Suhey said. Students and employees at the school deserved "a board committed to making sound and forward-thinking business and strategic decisions."
Nine of the seats on the 32-member board are elected by alumni, with three seats up for election each year. Besides Suhey, the other incumbent, vice chair Stephanie Deviney, also is running for re-election.
The third opening fills the vacancy left when Steve Garban resigned last year. Garban was the chairman when Paterno was fired.
Voting for the alumni seats ends May 2, the day state agricultural groups hold their election for two other seats on the board.
One of the incumbents, Keith Eckel, is seeking re-election. The other incumbent, former state agriculture secretary Samuel Hayes, was not among the three agricultural candidates, including Eckel, listed on a school website for the May election.
Eckel and Hayes were board members in November 2011. A school spokesman said Monday that Hayes had informed agricultural organizations in late February that he was not running again.