Posts filed under ‘Undergraduate students’
Some of what happened at Thursday’s meeting of the Penn State trustees’ governance and long-range planning committee—which began to get into the nitty-gritty of additional reforms—was predictable:
Veteran members of the board spoke in favor of keeping it the same size; newer members, elected by the alumni in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, insisted that a smaller board would be “more nimble” and “more engaged.” Agricultural trustees didn’t think cutting back the number of ag trustees was a good idea. Students said they need a permanent seat on the board, with the trustee being chosen by the students themselves, not the governor or the board itself.
But for the first time in public, the trustees went beyond the basics. Representatives from the Alumni Association, the faculty, and the students made their cases for permanent seats on the board. And among the issues the trustees considered Thursday were these:
How do the trustees define whether board members are “engaged”? Would having a faculty member—a university employee—on the board present an insurmountable conflict of interest? And how many board members should be alumni—not just trustees elected by the alumni, but alumni?
Additionally, Eric Barron, who is attending his first board meeting after taking over as Penn State’s president on May 12, weighed in.
He was careful to say that he wasn’t making recommendations and didn’t want to choose who his boss would be (the Board of Trustees is responsible for selecting the president). Barron said only that he wanted to let the committee know of his experience, and that he was familiar, as Florida State’s president, with having student and faculty representation on the board. He repeatedly used the word “voice” to describe what those trustees provided.
“If I got nervous about anything in this conversation, it wasn’t the notion of numbers and placement,” he said in the meeting. “It’s the notion of representing someone. My view is that this has to be a group of people that are here for one purpose: to ensure the success of the institution, not representation.”
As he spoke, governance consultant Holly Gregory and her assistant, Paige Montgomery, nodded their heads vigorously. Gregory had opened the discussion by saying, “Reaching agreement on these issues is difficult because it’s not quite as clear [as other reforms the board has already enacted]. There are issues of both power and trust. The trust among members of this board is already under some degree of tension. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it. I know some are frustrated that we haven’t moved faster.”
Barron elaborated on his experience with student and faculty trustees, saying that in addition to the voice they provide, he found that the chance for additional back-and-forth about the issues was important. “Lo and behold,” he said, “a student will vote for a tuition increase because they participated in an in-depth discussion about the budget and understand what the university is up against, and they don’t want to give up quality any more than anyone else. A faculty member will vote on benefit changes because they realize that between health insurance and benefits, it’s going up at a clip of $25 million a year and that’s unsustainable. So the voice is not just that, but an opportunity to give input and have it go in reverse.”
As usual, there’s no easy way to sum up what happened during the meeting, which lasted for 90 minutes and moved briskly. Even at that pace, the committee didn’t discuss all of the reform items it had previously discussed in small groups that were closed to the public in May. Here are some highlights from today’s meeting:
Alumni trustees: Alumni Association president Kay Salvino ’69, in making the case for an Alumni Association seat on the board, highlighted the association’s “mission of service” to its 174,379 members and 631,000 living alumni. “We have responsibility for serving the largest constituency of the university—substantially larger than students, faculty, and staff combined, and growing larger every year.” She noted, as well, that Alumni Council, the association’s governing board, includes alumni society presidents from each college and campus.
[In the interest of full disclosure: The Penn Stater magazine and this website are both published by the Alumni Association.]
In addition, Salvino said, the Alumni Association is “one of the largest cumulative donors” to Penn State with more than $15 million in gifts for scholarships, fellowships, programs, and facilities since 1988. And in the just-concluded capital campaign, Alumni Association members donated nearly $800 million, meaning “90 cents on the dollar of all alumni giving came from members of the Alumni Association.”
She finished by showing the scope of the Alumni Association’s programs, which involve students, showcase the university’s academic prowess, and communicate with alums: “We touch and serve Penn State and our alumni in a way that no other organization can do, and we do it every day, in countless ways.”
Trustee emeritus David Jones ’54, for one, was skeptical. He said he had “great respect and admiration” for the Alumni Association, but pointed out that alumni already elect nine trustees and noted that “historically, in recent years, at least two-thirds of our trustees have been alumni.” He called that proportion of trustees who are alumni “really full, if not too full.”
He added: “I sometimes think we would benefit by having more outside voices on the board.”
Alumni trustees Anthony Lubrano ’82 and Barbara Doran ’75 spoke up for the current system of elected alumni trustees; Doran called the alumni election “one of the most robust, transparent processes you can run.”
Business and industry trustee Richard Dandrea ’77 floated the idea of reducing the number of alumni-elected trustees, saying that election turnout is low and that so many of the other trustees are alumni that perhaps alumni are overrepresented on the board. Lubrano disagreed repeatedly, saying “no one” is more invested in the success of the university than alumni, but board chair Keith Masser ’73, an ag trustee, agreed with Dandrea, saying that the business and industry trustees may be misnamed. He said he isn’t aware that a non-alum has ever been named a business and industry trustee.
Faculty: John Nichols, professor emeritus of communications and chair of the Faculty Senate’s special committee on university governance, which issued this report in 2013, made the case for a faculty representative on the board. He stressed two things: first, that his committee’s report had been unanimously approved by the Faculty Senate, which is a particularly rare feat; and second, that he was proposing not a faculty trustee, but an “internal academic trustee.” The distinction, he said, is “very important.”
A “highly specialized institution like a university,” Nichols said, needs trustees who have a “deep understanding” of its mission. Penn State’s board has two members with a background in higher education: elected alumni trustee Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g, a psychology professor at St. John’s University, and Bill Oldsey ’76, who has worked in academic publishing.
Additionally, he said, a university is “essentially a professional association, and professional institutions are best governed with considerable governance by the internal professionals that deliver the goods. … Not to have that happen is a serious disconnection between the core mission of the university and the governance of the university.”
Jones said he had reservations about having employees on the board; ag trustee Betsy Huber noted that Pennsylvania law prohibits schoolteachers from serving on the school board in their own districts for just that reason. But Dandrea (who was chairing the meeting in Keith Eckel’s absence) said having one faculty trustee out of 30 meant that any conflict of image could be managed.
Students: University Park Undergraduate Association president Anand Ganjam and vice president Emily MacDonald spoke on behalf of students, and they made largely the point that their predecessors have made in previous meetings: that students don’t want to rely on the whim of the governor to have representation on the board and should have a representative who is chosen by students themselves. (For years, the governor has used one of his appointments to include a student on the board, but there’s nothing saying he has to.) They also detailed the procedure by which they assure student input.
Lubrano said he was in favor of the governor continuing to appoint a student trustee, but Masser said Gov. Tom Corbett had agreed to give up one of his appointments and allow the board to choose a student.
The tension surrounding reform was evident earlier in the day at the outreach committee meeting, when alumni trustee Ted Brown ’68 questioned Mike DiRaimo, the university’s governmental affairs representative, about a letter DiRaimo had written to the Senate’s state government committee asking that a bill sponsored by state Sen. John Yudichak, which would cut the board to 23 members, be tabled. Brown said he was upset that the letter indicated that the Board of Trustees did not support the bill because that is not, in fact, the case.
DiRaimo explained that he objected to the committee taking action on the bill for two reasons: because the bill would apply only to Penn State, and the university had been assured that would not be the case, and that the bill stipulates that only the General Assembly can make changes in the board’s size and composition in the future. He said, “That I know to be against the interest, against the position, against the actions of the trustees.” (The Senate committee did vote, unanimously, to approve the bill, which still needs to be considered by the full Senate.)
Brown wasn’t satisfied: “You said the Board of Trustees is opposed to this bill. I don’t remember any discussion to that, ever.”
New alumni trustee Robert Jubelirer ’59, ’62g chimed in, suggesting that DiRaimo could have phrased his objections better—and more accurately. He said that Yudichak ’93, ’04g and co-sponsor Jake Corman ’93 had previously agreed to hold the bill through May 2014 to see what progress the board made itself on reform and that the bill had been amended so to extend the time period to two years to allow the board to pursue reform itself.
“I think that’s significant,” Jubelirer said. “There’s plenty of time if this board is intent on reforming.”
He added that not only did the full board not discuss or vote on its position on the bill, but that he would not have opposed it had the board done so. Therefore, he said, the letter to the legislature was inaccurate. DiRaimo did not respond.
Here’s what comes next in the process:
Dandrea said that any committee members interested in working on a formal proposal to vote on at the next committee meeting would work with university attorney Frank Guadagnino ’78, who will “labor over” the draft. The committee will schedule an additional meeting within the next month to vote on recommendations to bring to the board. The idea is to have the board in position to vote on a proposal at its next meeting, Sept. 19 at University Park.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
One of the adjustments I’ve had to make as I moved from daily newspaper journalism to every-other-month magazine journalism is how much time we at The Penn Stater devote to story selection. We don’t just come up with an idea, assign it, edit it, publish it. We can spend months and months figuring out the best writer for a story, the best angle to take on a story, and the best way for it to fit in our magazine, which averages only three full-length features an issue. We like to think of that space as prime real estate, and we want to use it to its best advantage.
One of the stories in our current issue, “Paper Chase,” has been in the works even longer. When I returned to campus in 2009, I noticed right away the changes in The Daily Collegian—where I had spent the vast majority of my time as an undergrad—and began paying careful attention to a new information source founded by students, the website Onward State. It turns out that my colleague Ryan Jones ’95, who had already been here for a couple of years and who had also worked at the Collegian, was doing the same thing. We needed a story, we said, about the state of student media. Was it mirroring, we wondered, the evolution of media everywhere?
I’m not kidding when I say we kicked that idea around, on and off, for nearly four years. (Yes, perhaps we could stand to streamline our story pitching process.) But news got in the way, and more timely stories popped up. But we kept kicking it around. We watched how the students covered the Sandusky scandal. We got to know many of the students who work at the Collegian and at Onward State. Some are my students. Some, Ryan and I mentor. Some, we know basically as fellow media members, sitting side-by-side in the Beaver Stadium press box or at the Board of Trustees media table.
Last spring, we finally settled on the perfect writer: another Collegian alum, Brian Raftery ’99, who is plugged in to the new media side of things as an intelligent and involved journalist and a contributing editor at Wired. He delved into the reporting and found a fabulous tale to tell. It’s in the issue that should be arriving in Alumni Association members’ mailboxes any day now (if it hasn’t already), but because we suspect this will have wider interest beyond our usual readers, we’re making an exception and posting it online. Click here to download a PDF.
We also want to note one clarification: Onward State managing editor Kevin Horne says that based on updated statistics from September 2013 to March 2014, their website averages about 50,000 page views a day, and has upward of 100,000 on a good day.
We hope you’ll enjoy the story. Let us know what you think.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Saturday night’s alright: It’s the second-to-last weekend before finals, and there’s plenty to distract University Park students before the time comes to cram for exams. The annual Movin’ On outdoor concert kicks off Saturday at 2:30 with a lineup of six acts; Onward State offers a beginner’s guide to the performers, who range from “indie folk” to hip-hop, while the Collegian has the details on the late switch of headliners from New York rapper A$AP Rocky to Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa. Movin’ On is free as always.
And on Saturday night, the annual Blue and White Film Festival at the State Theatre will showcase the work of student filmmakers. Admission is free for students and $6 for non-students, and the curtain opens at 7 p.m.
Designing playwright: Some cool news on Carrie Fishbein Robbins ’64, who graced the cover of our March/April 2013 issue: The award-winning Broadway costume designer is set to debut two new plays she wrote. Sawbones and The Diamond Eater, one-acts plays Robbins penned, will have their world premieres next month at the off-Broadway HERE Arts Center in New York City. Also in May, Robbins is the main draw at the Alumni Association’s City Lights event, “Behind the Seams on Broadway,” also in NYC.
Out of this world: Onward State gets to know Eric Ford, the astrophysicist who was part of the team whose recent discovery of an Earth-like planet is getting lots of buzz. It’s good stuff, but I’m not gonna pretend I’m not disappointed that they didn’t ask him what kind of dinosaur he’d be.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
As she introduced president Rod Erickson, who was speaking to Alumni Council one last time before his retirement, Alumni Association president Kay Salvino noted that there’s something unusual about Old Main today. Generally, banners aren’t permitted there. But now there’s one hanging above the iconic columns that thanks Erickson for 37 years of service to the university, and it will hang there for a week. Salvino ’69 noted that it was paid for by Penn State students.
Erickson noted, with a laugh, that he hadn’t been asked permission—and that he wouldn’t have given it. Then he got serious and said the tribute means a lot because it came from the students. In his retirement, he said, he hopes to keep helping with the Presidential Leadership Academy, where he’s gotten to know a number of undergraduates, and possibly take on some kind of a mentoring role.
Not during the winter, though. That’s when he’ll be fishing off the coast of Florida.
A few other noteworthy items from Erickson’s talk:
Capital campaign: It sounds as though Penn State will hit its goal for For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. That’s a whopping $2 billion, which would make the university one of only 12 institutions to raise so much money. Erickson said he doesn’t know the total—that will be announced Saturday night at the celebration for the end of the public part of the campaign. (And the campaign does continue through June 30; Erickson joked that he’ll have pockets full of envelopes this weekend, so anyone who wants to donate a little more can certainly do so.)
The anticipated success is especially sweet, Erickson said, because “two and a half years ago, a lot of people were telling us that we should drop the campaign, lower the goal” when the Sandusky scandal broke. “We said, ‘When the chips are down, the Penn State family will come through,'” Erickson said. “Indeed they did.”
Future challenges: Asked what he saw as the biggest challenge incoming president Eric Barron will face, Erickson returned to a theme he has sounded repeatedly: the affordability of a college education. He noted again that Penn State takes its status as a land-grant university seriously and it is proud that so many of its students are the first in their families to attend college.
Looking back: Asked if there’s anything he would have done differently, Erickson said the university was “not very well equipped” to communicate during the Sandusky scandal because the university’s communications had been set up to communicate with external constituencies, via news releases and the like. “We over-emphasized marketing,” he said, “and underemphasized internal communications.” He said Fred Volkmann, who has been serving as Penn State’s interim vice president of strategic communications since October, had emphasized the need to communicate with students, faculty and staff, and alumni. Erickson said he believes that Barron—who moved into Schreyer House today and will begin transitioning into the job Monday—will be looking carefully at the communications position; Erickson added that he hadn’t made a permanent hire because he thought the next president needed to put together his own team.
Out-of-state students: Erickson said Penn State now gets more applications from out-of-state than from Pennsylvania residents, and he added a fascinating tidbit. Pennsylvania is still the top overall state. But the next seven are New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia, California, Texas, and Florida.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Relief on wheels: I got home Sunday from a few days in New Orleans, one of my favorite places on the planet and the site of this year’s CASE Editor’s Forum, the annual convention for us university magazine types. So it was cool timing today to see this story from The Times-Picayune on Aaron Wertman, a Penn State undergrad trying to help revitalization efforts in the city’s storm-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. His idea—a specially equipped trailer that would serve as a mobile design studio and tool trailer—has the support of a local non-profit, and he’s currently raising funds for the project on indiegogo. It’s an intriguing concept, and a very worthy cause.
Listen up: The list of spring commencement speakers is out, and it includes a couple of names that might be familiar to Penn Stater readers, including Beverly McIver ’92g, the fascinating painter and educator we profiled in our Nov/Dec 2011 issue. McIver will speak to Arts & Architecture grads. You can find the complete list of speakers, including those at campuses and at each of the colleges at University Park, here. Commencement ceremonies are scheduled the weekend of May 9-11.
From THON to Quidditch, leaders in their field: Our student media outlets have served up a couple of cool profiles to start the week. The Collegian features the story of Megan Renaut, a junior who was inspired to get involved in THON after a childhood friend was diagnosed with cancer. She was recently named executive director of THON 2015. And over at Onward State, there’s an in-depth profile of Matt Axel, the starting “beater” for Penn State’s club Quidditch team. The piece is loaded with information on the sport itself, which gets more popular by the year on college campuses, and also gives some insight into what makes Matt one of the best beaters in the country.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
President-elect Eric Barron seems to like automotive analogies. He rattled off two when he spoke to the Board of Trustees on Monday afternoon, immediately after being named Penn State’s 18th president:
Auto Analogy No. 1: When Barron was learning to drive, his father told him to lift up his head and look not at the hood ornament, but down the road: “You will discover it is much easier to get where you are trying to go.” Barron found that the tip resulted in “a much better driving experience” and also turned out to be a good life philosophy. “Our job, all of our job, is to see down the road, sense the future, and ensure that this great institution is at the forefront of success and achievement.” (more…)
Junior Natasha Bailey hopes to pursue a career with a non-profit organization in the future, but in the meantime her passion of helping others is being put to good use at Penn State. She’s one of eight students who’s part of Project Cahir (pronounced care): Penn State Students United Against Poverty, which was started in memory of Bill Cahir ’90 Lib.
Cahir worked as a Washington based-journalist and congressional staffer. He joined the Marines after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to serve and protect his country. Cahir was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, leaving behind his wife, then pregnant with twins, his parents, and siblings. Last year, his brother, Bart ’94, with support from his parents, started a scholarship in their son’s memory to recognize the kind of man he was—a man who cared about others.
Bailey, a scholarship recipient, says the Cahir Corps hope to accomplish change that can last a while and not only help current students, but future students as well. “We’re dedicated to it and are trying to let kids in poverty know they’re not alone,” Bailey says.
No one is sure how many students live in poverty, but freshman Varghese Paul, another scholarship recipient, says, “We know it’s there.” He adds, “There are students here that aren’t getting the resources and things they need.”
That’s why the Cahir Corps chose to start by researching how poverty actually affects students. They are conducting surveys and contacting Penn State departments, such as University Health Services as well as downtown organiations that work with local residents living in poverty. Once they gather enough information, they plan to put their knowledge to action, but they need to know what students need first in order to prepare a proper plan.
Emil L. Cunningham, the club adviser, says, “Poverty is an issue that often goes unnoticed, but many of us will come across it.”
Sarah Olah, intern