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The Issues

Making A Penn State Education Affordable

No issue impacts Penn State constituents more than the rising cost of tuition, and no issue threatens our alma mater’s future more than this one does.

I recently had a Facebook exchange with a mother who lives in New York. She told me that she and her husband, both of whom are Penn State alumni, raised their daughter in a home full of Penn State memorabilia. She told me their daughter finished in the top 5% of her high school class, and had her heart set on attending Penn State. She told me Penn State offered their daughter no scholarships. When they realized they would have to pay the entire over-$200,000 out-of-state cost for a Penn State education, she told me that she and her husband had to do the unthinkable: steer their daughter away from their beloved alma mater. She told me their daughter is now attending Clemson University. Perhaps someday this young lady’s children will live out her broken dream of attending Penn State, but knowing how loyal my Clemson friends are to their school, I believe this young lady will steer her children (and certainly make her future donations) to Clemson. To avoid breaking any more Nittany Nation chains like the one broken in that New York household, the university’s leadership must focus its efforts primarily on making a Penn State education more affordable.

Offering more lower-cost online courses, through the World Campus, to current students would be a good step in the direction of affordability. Another step could involve centralizing the development of these online courses in a Distance Learning Center rather than relying on each college to develop its own online curriculum. The cost savings resulting from this synergy could then be passed on to students in the form of tuition decreases.

Prudent financial management of the university’s resources is another essential step that can result in cost savings passed on as tuition decreases. Gone are the days when universities could mask financial mismanagement with tuition hikes. Many students come from single-parent families now, households that can’t afford to foot the bill for excessive spending.

Penn State also needs to maximize alternative revenue sources. The Hershey Medical Center, currently generating over 30% of the University’s income, will experience greater demand for its services as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Hospitals that are well-run financially often produce the best clinical outcomes, so any quality control improvements made at the Hershey Medical Center will bolster Penn State’s reputation as well as its ability to provide affordable educations.

Last but not least, Penn State must conduct a study to develop a breakthrough strategy for this issue. Our alma mater must fill this panel with its brightest minds, and then empower this panel with the necessary authority to implement the solutions that will make a college education more affordable and that will ultimately preserve Penn State’s future for many years to come.

 

Reforming The Board of Trustees

First and foremost, the Board of Trustees needs to open up communication channels with faculty, staff, alumni, students, and parents. The events related to the Sandusky Scandal exposed why the board can no longer rely solely on the university president for information.

I support any reduction in the size of the board. The University of Illinois operates successfully with 9 trustees. Why do we need 38?

I also advocate the reforms proposed by former Auditor General Jack Wagner, in particular the disclosure of per-trustee expenses. Board of Trustees meetings cost over $30,000 each these days. Now that the board meets five times a year, these costs need to be reduced.

In addition, trustees should be allowed to inform the public when they don’t agree with a decision reached by the board. Supreme Court justices can communicate dissenting opinions. Why can’t Board of Trustees members do the same? Standing Order VIII, the set of rules that forbids trustees from communicating dissenting opinions, no longer serves the University’s best interests. I will spearhead efforts to rewrite it.

To promote greater openness and transparency, the selection process for trustees representing Business and Industry must be changed. The current process is unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy; the public doesn’t know how these trustees wind up on the board.

Worse yet, these six Business and Industry trustees are appointed in disproportionate numbers to influential committees. The committee assignment process needs to be reformed so that all trustees, not just the Business and Industry ones, have the opportunity to serve on influential committees.

 

Openness and Transparency

When the trustees try to justify their secret retreats and closed-door meetings (what they like to call “executive sessions”), I’m reminded of what my life was like before I came out of the closet.

When I finally let go of this unnecessary secrecy, I opened up my life to a wonderful world filled with love and kindness. My family and friends didn’t shun me; they embraced and empowered me instead. I’ve always said my only regret about coming out of the closet was that I didn’t do it sooner.

The Board of Trustees needs to open up Penn State’s world. Complying with Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law would be an excellent step in the direction of openness and transparency. It would also behoove the trustees to comply fully with the commonwealth’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act.

“Executive sessions” need to become the exception rather than the rule. By discussing more issues in public forums, the Board of Trustees will promote greater awareness and will give constituents a greater stake in the University’s governance.

The latest efforts to make the board speak with “one voice” are, in my opinion, an unnecessary and counterproductive attempt to restrict trustees’ Freedom of Speech rights protected by the United States Constitution’s First Amendment. Standing Order VIII must be rewritten so, like Supreme Court justices, Penn State trustees can openly communicate their dissenting opinions and their disagreements with board decisions.

If the trustees take these actions, they will discover what I have learned over the past 18 years: good things, and good people, come to those who commit to openness and transparency.

 

Honoring Coach Paterno

For over 60 years, our beloved alma mater reaped the harvest Coach Joe Paterno sowed with his hard work, dedication, ingenuity, and his most precious resource: his time. We are forever indebted to Coach Paterno for all he did to make Penn State a better place. I join all of you who hope to see games played someday soon on Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.

In addition, to honor Coach Paterno’s decades of service and to honor the selfless choice a group of his players made, I propose a new plaza be built where his statue and the Players’ Wall once stood. The Players’ Wall and the plaques honoring the Paterno Era seasons would return to their rightful places. A new statue honoring Coach Paterno, based on a design approved by the Paterno family, could be the plaza’s centerpiece. Etched on a wall near this statue would be the names of all the players who chose to stay at Penn State after the NCAA imposed its draconian sanctions on the football program. Those players personify “Success With Honor” and everything else Coach Paterno stood for during his over-60 years of service to our alma mater.

I also propose that an archway with the words “Success With Honor” serve as the entry to the plaza. With Porter Road already widened at that location, people could park their vehicles safely at any time so they could have their pictures taken in the plaza.

I would like to credit my friend Tom who came up with the idea of the players’ names on the wall and who graciously permitted me to add it to this “Success With Honor” plaza proposal.

 

A Better Workplace

For too many years, too many people have told me Penn State is a great place to go for school and a lousy place to go for work. The high-profile firings of legendary coaches Joe Paterno and Emmanuil Kaidanov sent the wrong message to our talented faculty and staff, as well as to talented people interested in working at the Penn State campuses.

Clearly, to make Penn State a better place, we must make Penn State a better workplace. In his paper entitled “Reflections of a Former Trustee: How the Penn State Board of Trustees Really Works,” former trustee Dr. Ben Novak describes how power was diffused throughout the Penn State community in the 1960s. There were hundreds of checks and balances throughout the university system because faculty, staff, students, and administrators were united in working for the good of the whole institution. This community spirit needs to rise again on the Penn State campuses so faculty and staff can feel more secure in their jobs.

Now is the time to replace what Dr. Novak calls the current “Power From Above” system with a more community-oriented workplace like the one Penn State had in the 1960s. It’s also a great time to introduce programs that reward faculty and staff whenever they reduce costs and simultaneously improve their work environments.

Work culture changes take time to implement, but if we begin on them now, someday sooner rather than later we’ll all be saying Penn State is a great place to go for school and for work.

 

Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest arise when trustees have business relationships with their universities. Conflicts of interest call into question whether the trustees, who are benefiting financially from these business relationships, can put their universities’ best interests ahead of their own personal agendas.

As far as I’m concerned, universities expose themselves unnecessarily to scrutiny when they allow their trustees to benefit financially from these business relationships. The Internal Revenue Service’s revised Form 990 requires universities to answer more questions than they ever have before about trustee conflicts of interest.

Penn State needs to stay ahead of the curve on conflicts of interest, just like Washington & Lee University has done. Trustees there must sign a conflict-of-interest statement each year, and they must disclose all business and financial relationships they have with Washington & Lee University.

I also advocate Penn State adopting a straightforward policy stating that no trustee can benefit financially from his/her service on the Board of Trustees. With our alma mater already under the microscope, the last thing we need is a trustee damaging Penn State’s reputation with a scandalous conflict of interest. Service on the Board of Trustees is an honor, not a money-making venture.

 

The Freeh Report

You would be hard-pressed to find a document that has divided the Penn State community more than the Freeh Report has. It must be repudiated and called out for what I believe it is: a waste of Penn State’s money.

It’s mindboggling that our alma mater spent over $8 million on a report which, to date, the Board of Trustees has never voted to endorse.

Some people point to the Freeh Report’s recommendations as a good investment of the University’s money. We can all debate whether these recommendations will make Penn State a better place, but no one will ever convince me that a bunch of recommendations is worth over $8 million.

In my opinion, the Freeh Report desecrated Penn State’s good name. The value of our degrees is tied closely to our alma mater’s good name. Accordingly, we must repudiate the Freeh Report so students and young alumni can benefit as much from their Penn State educations as many of us alumni have from our degrees.


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