The sponsor, Sen. John Yudichak, said trustees would also be more accountable to the public if the board was reduced to eight elected alumni, five gubernatorial appointees, five elected by the agricultural community and five people from business and industry selected by the trustees.
Yudichak, D-Luzerne, called the approach "the art of the possible" and predicted it would improve the school's governance structure without going too far.
"I don't think it's the place of the General Assembly to micromanage Penn State or the state-related universities," Yudichak said.
A university spokeswoman released a statement saying the school welcomed Yudichak's support and interest. Yudichak was joined at a Capitol news conference on the topic by fellow alumnus Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican who represents the State College region where Penn State's main campus is located.
Penn State is currently reviewing its internal oversight and procedures and is considering hiring a consultant to help with that process.
Among the changes it has already adopted are removing the university president and state governor as voting trustees, establishing term limits for all trustees, posting meeting information five days ahead of time, adding public comment periods and requiring half the trustees—up from 13—to be in attendance in order for a meeting to be held.
Corman said the smaller board proposal could be fine-tuned, and said he was supportive of another change, to cement into legislation the tradition of choosing one of the governor's appointees from among the student body.
"We're not trying to do a hostile takeover of the board here," Corman said.
Penn State's board has come under heightened scrutiny because of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, for which three top administrators face allegations of a criminal cover-up of complaints. Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse and is appealing a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence.
A review of how the Sandusky scandal was handled, commissioned by Penn State from a group led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, included a list of recommended changes to the board of trustees. The Freeh report concluded the trustees relied too heavily on former president Graham Spanier, one of those currently facing charges.
"The board's over-confidence in Spanier's abilities, and its failure to conduct oversight and responsible inquiry of Spanier and senior university officials, hindered the board's ability to deal properly with the most profound crisis ever encountered by the university," the Freeh group wrote last year.
Yudichak said he is seeking co-sponsors and plans to introduce the legislation in the near future.