More from Sunday’s Trustees Meeting
The upcoming search for a new Penn State president took up a big chunk of yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, but the group covered some other ground as well. Here’s more on what they talked about:
Accreditation. President Rod Erickson gave an update on the warning Penn State received two weeks ago from its accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The president and vice president of the commission were on campus to meet with Penn State officials last Thursday, an Erickson called it “an excellent meeting.” Middle States has 14 accreditation criteria, and in Penn State’s case it has concerns about three of those criteria: integrity, governance, and institutional resources. The university has until Sept. 30 to provide an report on what it plans to do to address those concerns.
“There’ll be a small site-review team here during October,” Erickson said, “and we hope to have all of those issues satisfied in time for the mid-November meeting of the full commission. I have every expectation that we either have met, or will meet, all of those requirements.”
Vacant position. It doesn’t sound like trustee chair Karen Peetz ’77 plans to make her own pick to fill the vacancy created when Steve Garban ’59 resigned from the board on July 19. Anthony Lubrano ’82 asked her about the vacant seat toward the end of yesterday’s meeting, and Peetz responded, “That’s been popped over to the governance committee for discussion, so I’m sure there will be a meeting soon to discuss that.” Garban is one of the trustees elected by alumni, and his term would have expired next July 1.
Top 50 ranking. President Erickson was asked to put the university’s recent top-50-in-the-world ranking in context (here’s the news release about it from last week). “There are, of course a lot of rankings and ratings of universities,” Erickson said, “but there are some that we pay far more attention to.” The newly released world rankings, which are done by an institute at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, “really look at a lot of hard data about research accomplishments and other indicators.
“We were ranked in the top 50 among 1,200 universities that are ranked—and of course there are literally tens of thousands of universities across the world,” Erickson said. “So to be within that top-50 ranking is indeed quite an accomplishment.”
Moving forward. The trustees talked a good bit about trying to look to the future after nearly 10 months of upheaval. Mark Dambly ’80, chair of the outreach and community relations committee, referred to it as “making the pivot.”
“Lots of people have lots of good ideas,” Dambly said, ”and it’s been a challenge for us to change the dialogue and implement our ‘move-forward’ plan with the things that we’ve been dealing with. But it is time to move forward. We have a plan. We need to stick to the plan, and we need to all be behind the plan. There will be an opportunity at some other time to revisit the past, but now is not that time.”
Richard Edelman, CEO of the PR firm the trustees hired in April to help with “corporate communications, media relations, and stakeholder engagement,” outlined that plan for the trustees. Much of it, he said, would revolve around what he called “a new mantra”: transparency.
“Organizations that communicate frequently, openly, and honestly achieve a high degree of trust,” Edelman said. “Transparency matters more than any other factor in gaining trust.
“So in that context I want to just tell you we have been playing defense for the last four or five months since we have been engaged. The Sandusky trial, the Freeh Report, the NCAA sanctions, all of these have put us in a position of reacting, and all we could do was be responsive. Now is the time, as Mark said, to make the pivot. …. You have to now go out and begin the hard work of rebuilding the reputation of this great institution.”
Edelman’s approach involves an “inside-out” strategy in which students, faculty, staff, alumni, and “third-party allies” all will be engaged to help tell Penn State’s story.
“Our messages are as follows,” Edelman said. “First, we are a national leader in academics, athletics and in service. Second, we are vital to the community—the local community, the national community, the global community. Third, we are committed to reform of governance.”
One component of the strategy, called Faces of Penn State, will be rolled out this week, he said.
Edelman acknowledged that some of his firm’s ideas “are PR 101.” You can watch the video of yesterday’s meeting to hear more of the particulars (Edelman comes in around 2:05:00). But the gist of it is captured in his closing comment: “It is time to turn to offense. It is time that this proud university begin to tell its story again.”
Incidentally, yesterday’s meeting had fairly light attendance from the general public; I counted about two dozen people at one point, and I don’t think the number ever swelled beyond that. There were probably 40 people in attendance at the afternoon session session the day before.
Tina Hay, editor