In our November/December issue, which should be arriving in mailboxes any day now, the cover story is a collection of 19 tales sent to us by readers about their memories of life in the dorms. In case reading those stories makes you hungry for more, our associate editor Mary Murphy has compiled a dozen more that you can read online. They run the gamut from pranks gone badly awry to heartwarming recollections of friendships made that have lasted a lifetime. Check ‘em out.
Tina Hay, editor
In a contentious 90-minute special meeting Tuesday, the Board of Trustees voted down a proposal to formally examine the findings of the Freeh Report, voting instead to maintain its current stance of waiting until legal proceedings related to the Sandusky scandal run their course.
Alumni trustee Al Lord ’67 presented the initial resolution, which proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee to “examine the Freeh Report, meet with Freeh and his investigative team, review the full set of undisclosed communications and report its findings to the full board.” That resolution was defeated by a 17-9 vote, with Lord and the other eight alumni-elected trustees the only “yes” votes. A second resolution, presented by gubernatorial appointee and board vice chair Kathleen Casey ’88, proposed that the board “continue to actively monitor the discovery and factual investigations … and, upon conclusion of such proceedings, shall determine whether any action is appropriate and in the best interest of Penn State.” That resolution passed 17-8, with alumni trustee Adam Taliaferro ’05 abstaining.
It was Lord, during discussion of the second resolution, who asked Casey to clarify whether the action in her proposal (written in collaboration with Ken Frazier ’73) was simply to “continue.” When Casey said yes, Lord replied, “Continue to do what we’re doing? Resolutions should do something. This is ‘continue to do nothing.'” It was an exchange that got to the heart of the divide among the board’s members: The alumni trustees remain committed to repudiating the most damning findings of the Freeh Report, while the majority of board members argue that any such action is at best premature.
Lord introduced the amended resolution, first proposed in July, by acknowledging other issues that demand the board’s attention. “I wish that instead of talking about being pleased with only increasing tuition two or three percent, we were talking about decreasing tuition,” he said. “But what needs immediate attention is the Freeh Report… My feeling is that the consequences of the Freeh Report and the NCAA consent decree live on.” He cited comments and signs encountered by Penn State fans at the Rutgers football game last month as proof that the damage to the university’s reputation remains unchecked. “When I saw those signs, it occurred to me how far we’ve fallen, or how other people think we’ve fallen, because we don’t stand up for ourselves. I’m bothered by how meekly we react. Generally speaking, we don’t react at all … there’s a sense of ‘Suck it up, we deserve it.’ We don’t deserve it.”
The four-person ad hoc committee proposed in Lord’s resolution would have included Lord, fellow alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82, and two members appointed by board chair Keith Masser ’73. The alumni trustees were unanimous in their support: Ted Brown ’68 argued that any trustee who said they’d be willing to defend the university’s reputation in a one-on-one conversation was obligated to support the proposal, while Bob Jubelirer ’59, ’62g disputed the need to wait on the legal outcomes: “There is no downside, none at all, if we review the Freeh Report.”
Counterarguments came from Keith Eckel, an elected agricultural trustee, who cited strong applicant numbers and an upgraded credit rating as signs of the university’s health, and argued that the board’s responsibility was to “our students and our constituents. I urge the defeat of this resolution and the moving forward of the university, and the continued observation of the results of the trials that are ongoing, and because of which we cannot make any decision today.” That response brought an isolated “boo” from someone in the audience of roughly 100 people, many of whom applauded points made by the various alumni trustees. An otherwise tame exchange between the business and industry-elected trustee Rick Dandrea ’77 (an attorney who argued the wait-and-see approach on the ongoing court cases) and alumni trustee Ryan McCombie ’70 led to a more strident response from the crowd; two audience members were escorted out of the meeting after loud outbursts, prompting Masser to slam his gavel at the podium, while Lord turned toward the crowd and made a “time out” signal to try to quiet things down.
When order was restored, McCombie finished his point: “We accepted a scarlet letter that said we are a ‘football culture,’ when everyone knows we aren’t a football culture. I refuse to accept that letter; I don’t think the university should, either.”
After a bit more back and forth between the two sides—and the removal of one more audience member after an extended outburst—the trustees voted, with the the “nays” carrying the day. That was followed by the introduction of Casey’s resolution, a brief back-and-forth about when the board members had initially received it (the proposal was sent out electronically last Friday), and objections from Lord, Lubrano, and Bill Oldsey ’76 about the proposal’s wording. Taking issue with the final paragraph of Casey’s proposal, Oldsey noted, “It says ‘consistent with fiduciary duty’ … and then it says we’re going to wait and see. Unless I missed the last two hours, there is a lot of disagreement on the board about our fiduciary duty.”
That disagreement doesn’t figure to change anytime soon. A quick vote to table the proposal until a later date was shot down along the expected lines—the nine alumni trustees once again voted together—before the actual vote on the Casey/Frazier “wait and see” resolution. It passed.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
The Nov./Dec. 2014 issue of The Penn Stater is hitting mailboxes now, and it just may be my favorite cover to date—a pretty huge statement, considering that A-lister/bus driver we featured earlier this year.
The cover art, courtesy of illustrator Aaron Meshon, is just so darn cheerful. After reading the accompanying story, a compilation of readers’ favorite memories from life in the dorms, you’ll understand what some of those crazy characters are up to. As always, the stories submitted by readers were lots of fun to read, and it wasn’t easy choosing which ones to include. We received so many great stories, in fact, that we’ll be featuring a few of the runners-up here on the blog. Stay tuned for that.
Another highlight in this issue is a story commemorating the 50th anniversary of women’s sports at Penn State. “The Long Game” features lots of archival photos and interviews with the athletes, who share detailed memories of those first years. This was the last piece former senior editor Lori Shontz ’91, ’13g wrote for us before heading to Oregon to teach journalism, and it’s just a reminder of what a thorough reporter Lori is. (We miss her—can you tell?)
You’ll also find a profile of John Kimmich ’93, owner of Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and the man behind Heady Topper—an India Pale Ale widely regarded as the best beer in the world. Kimmich overcame some major setbacks before hitting it big in the beer world, and his story’s a good one.
Also in this issue: A look back at Dr. Dick Bundy’s career as Blue Band director; a cool archeology project that brought a group of undergrads to Israel; an update on former Nittany Lion Devon Still ’11, who’s helping his four-year-old daughter, Leah, fight cancer; and more.
Had a chance to check out the new issue yet? Tell us what you think. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
Here’s a guest post from our colleague John Patishnock ’05, editor of AlumnInsider:
Alumni Fellow Award honoree Keegan-Michael Key ’96g spoke with Theatre 100 students Wednesday morning, sharing advice and talking about his process of creating characters and sketches. Co-creator and co-star of the hit Comedy Central show Key & Peele, Key is in town for tonight’s Alumni Fellow awards dinner and has been making the rounds to various classrooms. During his 20-minute talk, he told students that comedy is about zigging and zagging and challenging misconceptions about what the audience expects to see.
Key displayed big-time energy with his gregarious personality, even obliging one student who asked for his autograph amid the Q&A. Key also spoke to the work ethic that’s needed in his profession, saying he routinely wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for a 15-hour workday. What keeps him going, he said, is that he’s doing what he’s passionate about. That’s one reason why he worked so much when he was studying at Penn State, saying he wanted to stay busy because he wasn’t sure if the work would stop when he graduated. Fortunately, he said, the work didn’t stop then and hasn’t stopped since.
At one point, a student asked Key if he envisioned being where he is now when he was at Penn State. “Not in a million years,” Key responded, but he said he made the right decisions at the right time and challenged himself. For example, Key was a dramatic actor at Penn State but has carved out a career as a comedic performer, and he told students they have to allow themselves to see beyond what they think their career path will be and be ready for new experiences.
“I’m not going to lie, so much of this is luck, so much of it is being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Another thing is you have to have some kind of training, you have to have tools that you can use, but then the opportunity has to strike, as well.”
Brandon Stanton, creator of the Humans of New York franchise, had some good advice for the 2,500 Penn State students who came to see him in Eisenhower Auditorium last night:
Don’t wait for perfect.
In the space of just four years, Stanton has gone from an unemployed bond trader to Internet sensation. His Facebook page—featuring his iconic photos and stories of everyday people—has more than 10 million likes, and his 2013 book, Humans of New York, spent 21 weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller List. A follow-up book, Little Humans, is due out next week.
But it didn’t happen all at once, he told the audience last night. Instead, he found his niche through an evolution, a gradual series of tweaks to his approach.
In 2010, as a 26-year-old bond trader in Chicago, Stanton “was looking for a hobby,” and after winning $4,000 in a football pool, he bought his first camera. Originally he photographed landscapes and landmarks in Chicago. When he eventually started taking photos of people, it was from far away, without their knowing.
Then, for a while, he would find someone who was engrossed in something—say, reading a newspaper—and position himself on one knee, waiting for them to look up and realize he was there. When they did, he’d snap their photo—which, needless to say, they didn’t always appreciate.
“I didn’t know you could ask people to take their photo,” he says simply.
When he finally did start asking, he was pleasantly surprised at how many people said yes: “I remember feeling such satisfaction. And I realized, This is kind of special.”
About five weeks into his new hobby, Stanton got fired from his job, and got the idea to move to New York City to pursue his street photography. Given New York’s rich diversity of people, he says, “I just thought, This would be such a great place to do a [photo] blog.
“I was sleeping on a mattress in the cheapest room I could possibly find in Bedford-Stuyvesant, taking 20 to 30 portraits a day,” he recalls. “And that went on for six months, in complete anonymity. It was a very hard and lonely time.
“Then I discovered Facebook.”
Stanton created a Facebook page, began posting a few photos a day, and the fans started trickling in—a huge antidote to the loneliness. “I started noticing names of people I didn’t know who were following my work. It was the most liberating feeling in the entire world … it lifted a million pounds off my shoulders.”
At first the photos carried only short captions, if any. So another turning point came in late 2011 when he started attaching stories to the photos. Stanton recounted having been sick with the flu and unable to get outside to shoot new portraits, so he rooted around in his existing photos and found one of a woman dressed entirely in green—even green hair. He remembered that she had said something to him that day, and he decided to put her comment into the caption:
The caption reads:
“So do you do a different color every day?”
“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found that I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”
The photo—one that Stanton had initially regarded as a “throwaway”—became an instant hit. (Currently it has nearly 156,000 “likes.”) Stanton changed his approach accordingly, and now spends as much time talking with each of his subjects as he does shooting their photos; brief excerpts from those conversations now accompany the portraits he posts to his Facebook page. The questions he asks are personal—”What is your greatest struggle right now?” “Can you remember the time when you felt the most afraid?”—and the answers he gets are surprisingly honest.
In August and September of this year, Stanton took his HONY concept to an international level, doing a 50-day world tour in partnership with the United Nations. His photos of schoolchildren, shopkeepers, and young mothers in such countries as Iraq, Israel, and Ukraine revealed that even in areas ravaged by conflict, people are … well, people. There’s a reason for that, he told his audience last night: He went out of his way to look for ordinary people and moments.
“If I’m covering a rally or protest with 12 journalists, and they all have cameras … there could be one guy who’s really angry and all 12 photographers will be gathered around that person. And that’s the photo that goes out to the world. People want to find the extreme images and stories; those are what really sell newspapers.
“I wanted to depict normality in places where very extreme headlines are coming out … to apply this normal intimate process in some scary places.
“I’m just trying to show normality. Not extremity, just normalcy.”
Stanton’s lecture last night was sponsored by the Penn State Student Programming Association.
Tina Hay, editor
Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times ran a special section on climate change, timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit this week in Manhattan. Two Penn Staters with very different perspectives on the issue feature prominently in the package.
The first is Richard Alley, the Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences whose work on polar ice cores and quirky, engaging style of bringing science to the masses has made him one of the country’s best known climate scientists. Alley serves as the primary source in the Times‘ explainer on carbon dioxide, our planet’s most prominent greenhouse gas. Alley has a gift for useful analogies, and his “pothole” comparison in the Times piece is a great example.
Then there’s Diane Ackerman ’70, the author whose latest book, The Human Age, continues a career-long passion for the natural world. Ackerman’s new book is one of three reviewed with climate change and its impacts as a unifying theme. As we wrote in our Sept./Oct. issue, The Human Age offers what Ackerman describes as a hopeful take on how humans are impacting the planet: “…how, despite our tendency to alter—and occasionally obliterate—our surroundings, humans still manage to cultivate beauty.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Yesterday’s board-reform recommendation by the Board of Trustees’s governance committee is playing to mixed reviews so far.
The most prominent critic appears to be state senator John Yudichak ’93, ’04g, who quickly issued a statement suggesting that the committee violated state law with its recommendation. His concern apparently is with the removal of voting privileges for the three members of the governor’s cabinet who serve as trustees: “The public members of the board of trustees and the voting privileges they have are decided by statute, not by a committee of non-lawmakers,” according to his statement.
Yudichak is the main sponsor of Senate Bill 1240, which would cut the size of the board from 30 voting members to 23. The proposal approved in the governance committee yesterday, by contrast, would increase the number of voting members to 33. Mark Dent of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked with Yudichak yesterday and has a bit more on the senator’s objections here.
The governance committee also heard criticism during the public-comment portion of its meeting yesterday from alumnus Jeff Goldsmith ’82, who ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2013 and who has since formed a group called Penn State Board Watch. Goldsmith expressed “extreme disappointment in how the committee has handled public input into this process,” pointing out that while comment has been allowed at some sessions, there’ve been severeal committee breakout sessions that took place in private.
A few other notes from yesterday’s meeting:
Ted Brown’s Proposal E. While much of the debate has been about whether to keep the nine alumni-elected slots on the board or reduce that number to six, trustee Ted Brown ’68 put forward a proposal to increase the number to 12. He points out that alumni trustees (three, to be exact) were first added to the board in 1875, at a time when Penn State had about 1,400 living alumni. Thirty years later, in 1905, Penn State had about 9,400 alumni, and the number of alumni trustees increased to nine. Today, 109 years later, Penn State has more than 600,000 alumni, but still only nine alumni trustees. “In less than 20 years there will be about 1 million [living alumni],” according to the rationale statement in Brown’s proposal. “At that rate we should have 540 alumni-elected Trustees. This proposal advocates only an increase of three.”
Brown’s proposal never made it to a vote. After the meeting, he told the committee, “I have to say that I am not happy with what you’ve passed, but my view is that probably nobody is. … I am happy we reached a compromise that protects all constituencies.” He added that if the full board tries again to reduce the number of alumni-elected seats, he’ll again pursue his 12-seat proposal.
Board size. The proposal passed yesterday would increase the size of the Board of Trustees (including both voting and non-voting members) from 32 to 38. Penn State already has the largest board in the Big Ten, but a Penn State news release points out that even with the proposed change, the university’s board would still be the smallest of the commonwealth’s state-related universities.
One argument in favor of a larger board comes from those who point out that the board has a large number of committees and subcommittees; with a smaller board, they say, it would be hard to populate those committees without stretching members too thin. “I’ve changed my view on board size since I got here,” Dan Mead ’75, ’77g, a new trustee who serves on the governance committee, said in yesterday’s meeting. “I used to think 12 to 14 would be enough. But I didn’t have the appreciation of the committee structure.”
Lubrano v. Dandrea. The most pointed exchanges of yesterday’s meeting, as was also the case in the August meeting, were those between committee vice-chair Rick Dandrea ’77 and committee member Anthony Lubrano ’82. Dandrea supported the original Proposal A, which would have reduced the number of alumni-elected trustees from nine to six; Lubrano opposed that. Dandrea argued that, even with six alumni trustees, Penn State would have greater alumni representation on its board than most of the peer schools that consultant Holly Gregory studied. “By the standard of our database, that is still a robust representation—exceptionally large, compared to most other schools.” Lubrano responded: “I would argue, how many other schools have 600,000—and growing—alumni?”
Dandrea, a trustee elected to the board by its business and industry members, also maintained that a relatively tiny percentage of Penn State alumni show interest in the elections. “With execption of the post-Sandusky-scandal years,” he said, “only 2.5 to 5% of alumni voted in elections. Your marketing firm or whatever tells you to cite 600,000 alumni, but ….” He pointed out that the top vote-getter in the 2014 alumni election, Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g, garnered 10,000 votes, a small fraction of those eligible to vote. Lubrano’s response: “So how many people voted to put you on the board, sir? Five. … Ours is far more democratic than yours will ever be.” At that point, committee chair Keith Eckel stepped in, saying, “I expect us all to be civil,” and the conversation moved on.
Risk management. There’s one component of board reform that came not from the governance committee, but from the committee on audit and risk. That committee is looking at the possibility of creating a subcommittee devoted entirely to “risk structure,” a concept that has to do with assessing and being prepared for various kinds of risks to an organization. (Some say the Sandusky scandal offers a classic case study in failures of risk management.) The idea has been championed in part by board member Ted Brown, who deals with risk management in his professional life—he owns a consulting firm that’s focused on the topic—and who is one of the alumni trustees elected to the board in the wake of the scandal. The audit and risk committee will report on its discussions on the subject at the full board meeting this afternoon.
Tina Hay, editor