Posts filed under ‘Campus issues’
Column: A plea for respect and understanding among all who call themselves Penn Staters, and a reminder of our shared fate.
Sitting in my office on another perfect September day, I can look at the most recent issue of our magazine, and at the stories we’re writing and editing for the next one, and find constant reminders of the things that make this place great.
Working at The Penn Stater, we’re fortunate to meet and interact with a lot of the individuals whose intelligence, ingenuity, and hard work make that greatness possible. Just in the past few months, I’ve had the chance to interview faculty members whose research explains everything from the genetic influence on our voting habits to the science of zombified ants. I’ve met students who have established themselves as leaders on campus, in town, and beyond—smart, insightful young adults who are already doing important work. And of course, there are our fellow alumni. Literally every day, we hear about another alum—an artist, an educator, a public servant, or an entrepreneur—who is doing something important, unusual, or just plain cool. As writers and editors, we’re lucky to have such a rich vein of people, and stories, from which to choose.
It is this collective—of faculty and staff, of current students, and of more than half a million living alumni—who combine to make Penn State great. More than an institution, Penn State is a community, and like any community, every demographic contributes to the whole. We are greater than the sum of our parts, and we are weaker when those parts don’t function in unison. Right now, in too many ways, unity among Penn Staters seems increasingly hard to find.
There is room for constructive disagreement within a community—such critical discourse is vital. The problem is the increasingly combative, often disrespectful, and occasionally hateful tone of “debate” among various members of our community. It seems to have come to a head over the past week. (more…)
From news to features, your daily dose of everything Penn State.
All sorts of science: Penn State researchers are making news in disparate and fascinating ways. Postdoctoral fellow Angela Brant is credited with the hunch that has led to new findings about the brain’s ability to learn new skills well into adolescence; Nobel Prize-winning glaciologist Richard Alley has co-authored a study confirming the discovery of an estuary—the first of its kind—under the Antarctic ice sheet; and Ph.D. candidate Joshua Stevens has come up with a pretty cool map showing nearly a century of Bigfoot sightings across North America.
From news to features, your daily dose of everything Penn State.
A healthy decision: Penn State has reversed course on its plans to fine faculty and staff who don’t provide personal health information and submit to screenings as part of the university’s new wellness plan. The story had become national news in recent weeks as faculty members and outside health care experts weighed in; the university’s decision to suspend a $100 monthly fine for noncompliance with the plan made the front page of the Business section of Thursday’s New York Times.
Toward the end of Friday’s Alumni Council meeting, members heard an update from Nan Crouter, chair of the Presidential Search and Screen Committee, which has begun identifying potential candidates to be Penn State’s next president.
This is not an opportunity that’s going to come along very often.
Searches for college presidents are extremely secretive. That’s because the candidates for these positions are generally in other high-profile positions, and they don’t want to be identified. Explained Crouter, who’s also dean of the College of Health and Human Development, “They get very skittish if there’s any whiff they might be interested.”
But the search is in an early phase, and with the university and the executive search firm it hired, Isaacson Miller, soliciting input from faculty, staff, students, and alumni, Crouter explained the procedure to council members and asked what they were looking for in the university’s next president. (Among the answers from council members: someone who can unite the Penn State community, someone who shares Penn State’s values, someone who can make the commonwealth campuses feel more a part of the entire university.)
The process involves two committees. Crouter leads the Search and Screen Committee, which includes administrators, faculty, students, and alumni, and which is charged with identifying a short list of candidates. That list then goes to the Board of Trustees’ Presidential Selection Council, which is chaired by Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77 and includes 12 trustees and Peter Tombros ’64, ’68g, chair of the current capital campaign. The latter committee will choose the president.
“We want to make sure,” Crouter said, “that no one gets on that short list that we don’t feel really good about.”
Crouter was asked about the two-committee system; the questioner was concerned about the possibility for confusion or conflict. She explained that the system had been used in previous presidential searches, and she added that the two committees have already met together. She said that four trustees will attend meetings of the search and screen committee, and that four members of the search and screen committee will attend meetings of the trustees committee.
She was one of three officials to speak with Alumni Council on Friday; president Rod Erickson and Board of Trustees chair Keith Masser ’73 also addressed the group. Each person spoke for about 10 minutes and took questions for another 10.
Other notes from the session:
—Masser updated Alumni Council on governance reforms that were presented by Jim Broadhurst ’65, chair of the governance and long-range planning committee, at the March trustees meeting and will be voted on at the May 3 meeting at University Park. (For background on the reforms, click here for a previous blog post.)
Among the items: removing the governor and president as voting members, increasing the quorum to a simple majority, term limits for trustees, a longer waiting period before trustees can become university employees and vice versa, and provisions for removing a trustee because of a conflict of interest or other conduct.
The last point prompted a question from council member Liz Bligan ’91, ’98g, who asked Masser about the perception that the final two proposed changes were designed to prevent specific people from joining the board or from staying on the board. She didn’t use their names, but she was referring to Jay Paterno ’91 and current trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82.
Masser answered that the reforms were consistent with best practices as defined by the Association of Governing Boards, one of the higher education groups with which the trustees had consulted. He added that at the May meeting, “a solid debate will come up.” Masser also said that this might not be the end of changes in how the university is governed. “Our self examination is far from complete,” he said. “To be clear, our entire board recognizes the need for continuous improvement.”
—President Erickson thanked the Alumni Association’s Grassroots Network for helping to mitigate potential cuts in Penn State’s state appropriation. Two years ago, Gov. Tom Corbett’s initial proposal was a 50 percent cut in state funding. Last year, it was 30 percent. (Neither proposal was adopted.) But this year, Corbett’s initial proposal was flat funding. “I never thought that would be my wildest good dream,” Erickson said, “but that’s been the case.”
Erickson did agree to a minimal tuition increase. That amount won’t be settled upon until the July Board of Trustees meeting.
—Erickson said his biggest concern is the prospect of budget cuts mandated by the federal sequestration. The full effects aren’t yet being seen, but Erickson said the best guess is that the university will lose between $40 and $50 million in federal research funding. Additional effects: lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements at Hershey Medical Center and cuts in student aid, particularly work-study programs.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
About nine months ago, I received an email from Sheila Squillante ’02g, a senior lecturer in Penn State’s English department, and Dave Housley, who works in Penn State’s Outreach department and is an editor at Barrelhouse magazine. They were collecting pieces that had been written about the Sandusky scandal for an anthology, and they had a specific mission. They wanted pieces written by people who are connected to Penn State. And they wanted not straight news accounts or opinion pieces about who’s at fault, but pieces that dug into the emotions of the situation. They eventually came up with a title: Notes from Inside a Burst Bubble: Penn Staters on the Penn State Scandal.
I was honored to contribute a piece I wrote for this blog, about how sociology lecturers Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g addressed the issues in SOC 119. I’ve been eagerly waiting to see what other pieces would turn up in the anthology, and the time is drawing near.
Squillante and Housely couldn’t find a traditional publisher for the book, so they’re raising funds to publish it themselves. They’ve set up this page on indiegogo to solicit donations because they want to donate any profit to RAINN, and that wasn’t possible on some other platforms. You can go there to donate; every little bit helps. They need to raise $2,000 to cover expenses, and as of Monday morning they’re at the $1,200 mark.
The Daily Collegian did a nice piece on why the book matters; Squillante called it a “document for people to make sense of what happened.” Among the contributors are Squillante, her English 15 class, Housely, and Michael Weinreb ’94, who often writes for us and who wrote insightfully and movingly about the scandal for Grantland.
If you’re interested in contributing, I know that the editors—and the writers, including me—would be grateful. None of us are making a dime. But it’s important for the voices of Penn Staters to be heard, and of course RAINN is doing valuable, vital work. Here’s a way to support both.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Summing up a Board of Trustees meeting is never easy. I’ve covered them on and off since college, and they’re always a mix of mind-numbing reports and vital, critical information and decisions—often in the same agenda item. Since the Sandusky scandal, the meetings have been even more challenging, with more to consider and digest.
Take Friday’s meeting, for instance, which was moved from the traditional spot, the boardroom at the Nittany Lion Inn, to a larger conference room at The Penn Stater Conference Center, the better to accommodate the greater interest in such meetings since the Sandusky scandal. It had a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything.
Part of the meeting was celebratory—president Rod Erickson’s report, largely a list of achievements by Penn State students and faculty. Among them: the Dairy Judging team taking “top honors” at the Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest, the university being recognized as one of the top 10 producers of U.S. Fulbright Scholars, and the dedication of the new Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, which has nifty features such as beds for parents to sleep in when they’re staying with their sick children.
Part of the meeting did, truly, look forward. Erickson announced that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education had reaffirmed Penn State’s accreditation, and the trustees approved the members of the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which will oversee the search for Erickson’s replacement. (Keep reading for more details, and we’ll have a full report on the presidential search in our January/February issue.)
Part of the meeting hinted at the division within the university community. The trustees approved a code of conduct for intercollegiate athletics, something required by the Athletics Integrity Agreement that’s part of the NCAA sanctions, but not without discussion. Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g, who said he was in favor of the code, nonetheless wanted to “assert that nobody takes this as us approving the NCAA consent decree.” He and Anthony Lubrano ’82 wanted to add that language to the resolution, but Penn State’s vice president and general counsel, Stephen Dunham, recommended against it to eliminate any confusion and because the code itself doesn’t mention the AIA or consent decree.
“This is a Penn State document,” Dunham said. “It’s based on Penn State principles. It’s based on Penn State core values. It’s based on the Penn State mission. It is 100 percent consistent with existing Penn State intercollegiate athletics policies.”
Note, by the way, that the document must be signed by student-athletes, coaches, athletics staff, and trustees.
And part of the meeting was just flat-out angry. Eight people who registered in advance were permitted to address the board for three minutes each. Six showed up to speak, and their anger was palpable, particularly Gene Lizardi—who called himself “most ashamed of the board members who went to the university” and suggested that auditor general Jack Wagner’s report on governance reform be sent to NCAA president Mark Emmert, so “maybe he can vacate some of your seats”—and Philip Schultes ’90g, who said he was visiting guidance counselors at high schools across Pennsylvania to ask them to discourage students from applying to Penn State.
Others asked why David Joyner ’72, ’76g, ’81g is still the acting athletic director (Board chair Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77 said in a post-meeting news conference that he will remain in the position for the duration of Tim Curley’s contract) and to see the documentation involved in hiring Louis Freeh. Said Peetz: “There were many pointed questions—I think they are important questions—and we’re going to have to go back and do the due diligence of what paperwork was done …. So that’s a fair question.”
Important issues, all. But I’m going to spend the rest of the post on the presidential search because, as numerous people have said, choosing the next president is among the most important—if not the most important—decision the trustees will make.
The process involves three committees, two of which are directly involved and one that has a more peripheral, big-picture role.
The Blue and White Vision Council will be led by former University of Illinois president Stan Ikenberry, and it includes trustees, faculty, and alumni. (Click here for the 27-person list.) The members are looking strategically at some of the issues Penn State needs to deal with—the example everyone mentions is the role of technology in higher education, particularly online education. They’re not directly involved in the presidential search process, but they will share their findings with the two committees that are.
The University Presidential Search and Screen Committee, which has yet to be named, will start the process in the spring. This committee will consist of eight faculty members (including the chair, chair-elect, and immediate past chair of the Faculty Senate), two deans or chancellors, one member of the president’s executive staff, three students (two undergrads, one grad), the president of the Alumni Association (that’s Katie Smarilli ’71 Lib), and one university staff member. It will work to identify 10 to 15 candidates.
That list of candidates will go to the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which was authorized Friday by the board. This is the group that will conduct interviews.
The committee is comprised of 12 trustees—Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, James Broadhurst ’65, Mark Dambly ’80, Keith Eckel, Kenneth Frazier ’75, Edward Hintz ’59, Peter Khoury (the student trustee), Ira Lubert ’73, Keith Masser ’73, Peetz, Paul Silvis ’06g, and Linda Brodsky Strumpf ’69. The 13th member is Peter Tombros ’64, ’68g, chair of the current capital campaign.
This process is similar to the process that Penn State used in 1994-95, when it hired Graham Spanier.
There will also likely be an executive search firm involved to help identify candidates. Peetz said Thursday during a work session of the university governance and long-range planning committee that she has already made contact with some firms. The trustees’ committee will decide whether to hire a firm—which is common when hiring a university president—and whether to engage a firm that specializes in higher education or one that has also does corporate hiring.
The timetable is based on Erickson’s desire to retire in June 2014; the idea is to have a candidate ready about six months ahead of time, giving that person time to transition. The search is expected to take about six months.
“I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble at all with fantastic candidates for the presidency of Penn State,” Peetz said. “I mean, it is one of the best institutions in the world; we’re always in the top hundred internationally, top 50 domestically. It’s a job that most anybody in academia would want.” She added that she doesn’t think the Sandusky scandal or aftermath will be a sticking point, “particularly since we’ve taken them so aggressively in terms of what the remediation is … by the time someone gets here in 2014, this will be just a distant memory.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor
The crew involved in the Penn State theatre production of Sweeney Todd not only put on a matinee on Saturday, but some of them stuck around afterwards to answer audience questions for an hour.
Director Susan Schulman, along with the stage manager, costume designer, lighting designer, scenic designer, and technical director, fielded questions about everything from how they get the blood off the actors’ clothes to how Sweeney’s wicked barber chair works to what was involved in getting the 1850s London accents right.
A lot of the questions came from a group of two dozen young people sitting behind me, so when the session was over, I introduced myself to the group’s leader. It turns out that the students are from Cambria Heights High School in Patton, Pa., and they’ll be staging a version of Sweeney Todd in December. The group leader was Patricia Stiles ’80g, who’s the director of the show.
Here are a couple of cool things I learned from the Saturday-afternoon session:
—Meat pies. The meat pies that Mrs. Lovett sells (and into which Sweeney’s victims eventually get baked) are real pies in this production—but they’re not meat pies. The actors actually bite off chunks of them onstage, “so they have to be palatable,” says Schulman. The Penn State Bakery provides the pies, and, according to Schulman, they’re actually apple pies. “They’re delicious, by the way.”
—Trap door and chute. Sweeney Todd’s M.O., as you may know, is to get his victims into his barber chair, then slit their throats and send them sliding off the chair, through a trap door in the floor, and down a chute to the pie shop. Theatre student Ryan Stanger, who is the show’s technical director, was the guy (more…)
Anyone paying even partial attention to the events over the past year at Penn State must know a little about the Clery Act. That’s the law that governs how universities report crime statistics, and in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State is being investigated for not complying fully with the act.
Penn State is beefing up its compliance (it hired a Clery Act compliance director, Gabriel Gates, in March), and as part of that, earlier this month I attended a mandatory training.
I’m the faculty adviser for a student group called Paws of Friendship, which raises money to buy toys for children in orphanages and does other community service projects. That makes me a Campus Security Authority, and therefore mandated by law to report information about a crime that I hear about in my role as a faculty adviser. (More on that in a minute.)
It was an interesting session, and I learned a little more about the law and what, exactly, it requires.
For instance, faculty members aren’t Campus Security Authorities. Neither are academic counselors or most staff members. The group does include faculty advisers to student groups, coaches, residential life staffers (including RAs), university police, and other security personnel hired by Penn State.
The law covers all public and private universities that get federal aid (which is just about all of them) and requires them to do these things: (more…)
The biggest takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday night titled “The Future of the NCAA and its Membership,” I thought, came at the end. And it didn’t come from either of the biggest names on the panel: Gene Corrigan or Cedric Dempsey, both former NCAA presidents.
It was R. Scott Kretchmar, Penn State’s former NCAA faculty representative and current professor of kinesiology, who said, “I think one of the difficulties that faculty and others who love Penn State are having at this time is, the issue of knowing that we need to move forward—we can’t keep tilling the soil; we have to get on with it—but the circumstances under which we’re now suffering were so unusual that it’s very difficult to do that.
“And so there may be a period of time where we have to ask questions: Were we treated fairly? Was there any kind of justice here? But eventually, we’re going to move on. Penn State’s strong. We’re going to have a good future.”
Those were the questions on everyone’s mind Wednesday night, and Kretchmar accurately described the mood of the crowd, a mix of students and townspeople.
Look at the title of the event, which was (more…)
Going in to Wednesday’s livestream conversation with Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey ’94g, there were only a few things we at The Penn Stater knew for sure: Whether the viewer count hit 3 or 300, the people who joined in would care deeply about the issues and want their voices heard. And that the door would be open—for an honest, emotional, and sometimes controversial discussion.
We were right on both counts.
Around 200 people from Facebook, Twitter, and the livestream chat spent one and a half hours talking about the big issues along with Sam and Laurie. Viewers brought up questions about identity, personal responsibility, loyalty, lack of trust in our leaders, and the biggest question of all: Where do we go from here?
Some (very abridged) highlights:
Viewer question: Why should alumni and students take responsibility for the scandal? We did nothing wrong.
Laurie: This was handed to the Penn State community by fate, the same way a hurricane is handed to a particular town. This isn’t a Penn State problem, but it was given to us to say, ‘OK, how can we deal with this?’
Sam: Penn State has been given this burden. Maybe the honorable approach is to accept a certain amount of punishment. That’s a big thing to say, but what if we stepped outside the box? We if we said, “Let me see if there’s a higher road here.” It’s really easy to beat the drums and yell and scream, but what might be an alternative path? Fighting the sanctions—what does that look like? Is that an honorable approach?
How can we move forward when we feel the truth isn’t out yet?
Laurie: We all want the truth, and the reality is, we as human beings don’t often get to live in the truth. We don’t get the opportunity where other people see us for who we are. The intention here is to seek the truth, and follow it out as long as it takes, but in the meantime, recognize that we don’t have the privilege of being seen how Penn State wants to be seen. We join humanity in that, and we, as people of Penn State, aren’t unique in that. It’s humbling.
Sam: Penn State has been judged very harshly by the court of public opinion, and when the court of public opinion comes down in such a powerful way, that becomes the truth for millions and millions of people. So what do we do with the fact that that is now the truth? We may say, wait a minute, that’s not the truth. But we have to find a way to live within that, because that’s the truth to many people. I can sit here and be angry about that, and sometimes I am. But is there another way around that? How might I grow? How might I expand?
I hate that Penn State has adopted the blue ribbons for child-abuse awareness, because it feels like an admission of guilt—like a scarlet letter.
Sam: I understand that, especially when things like this are done for political reasons. But here’s the other side: What if every time you see a blue ribbon, you think about the fact that 1 in 8 of your female friends, sisters, aunts, neighbors, etc. has experienced child sexual abuse in some way? And 1 in 10 of your male friends? What if the blue ribbons meant that, and what if I really took the time to think about that and let that influence my life? What might happen? Because when you sit together at a Thanksgiving meal, and you’ve got 10 or 12 people, somebody has had that experience. And very likely, the abuser is somebody who may also be sitting at that table. So, when we take the blue ribbons, what if we used that as a lens? Put the blue-ribbon lens on and look at the world?
Whether you agree or disagree with Sam and Laurie—and with one another—the most encouraging part of all this is that the conversation continues. Since the stream ended at 9:30 p.m. last night, viewers are still posting opinions and ideas on this blog, to Twitter (with the hash tag #pennstater), to our Facebook page, and via email at email@example.com. As always, we welcome your questions, comments, and feedback.
If you missed last night’s livestream, you can watch the video in its entirety here. (Unfortunately, the conversation in the chat box to the right of the screen is no longer available.)
Mary Murphy, associate editor