Board of Trustees Report: Barron Addresses Affordability of College; Lord Wants Freeh Report ‘Finished’
The Board of Trustees meeting began with what seemed, at times, like a graduate-level seminar in finance and statistics. President Eric Barron, addressing the board for the first time, dispensed with the usual presidential address highlighting various accomplishments of students and faculty and instead presented a 25-minute talk about the issues of access and affordability in higher education, complete with 22 pages of bar graphs, scatter charts, financial data, and bulleted lists of potential ways to make a Penn State education more affordable.
When I profiled Barron for our May/June issue, he told me he liked data. Click here for a PDF of his presentation today—you’ll see he may have understated his love of data.
More than three hours later, the meeting ended with a surprise resolution introduced by newly elected alumni trustee Al Lord ’67, who called for a roll call vote on “finishing” the Freeh report. Lord contends that the report is incomplete because Freeh did not talk to seven key people and because the truth of whether Penn State officials were aware of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes is still unknown.
“I want the board to agree that we’re not done. That’s all,” Lord said after the meeting. “It’s very simple—that we’re not finished. There are a lot of people that complain there’s misinformation in the report. I don’t know. I do know it’s not finished.”
Discussion was suspended because Penn State general counsel Stephen Dunham advised that it would need, for privacy reasons, to take place in executive session. Lord said the board had decided to have the discussion at its next meeting in September, and then the board briefly debated whether it needed to table the resolution to assure that the meeting did not end with a resolution on the floor. Although newly elected alumni trustee Robert Jubelirer ’59, ’62g said he believed the motion was tabled with the intent of killing it, board chair Keith Masser ’73 Eng said it was merely a formality. The motion was tabled.
It’s a lot to digest. So here are some of the details on both:
Barron’s report: He identified six major areas of emphasis for the university: excellence, student engagement, economic development and student career success, diversity and demographics, access and affordability, and technology and curriculum delivery.
Barron spoke in intricate detail about what he called Penn State’s “evolution into a tuition-driven university,” and showed a chart that made clear how few state budget dollars Penn State gets in comparison with the other Big Ten universities. He broke down how students pay for college and provided a table that showed how family income affects graduation rates: For every additional $10,000 in family income, a student’s chance of graduating rises 6 percent.
He discussed the rising level of debt college students face—66 percent of students graduate with some debt, and the average debt has grown from $20,000 to $35,429 in the past decade. Worse, Barron said, some students don’t have enough money to finish, so they are saddled with debt but don’t have a college degree. (This topic was fleshed out in a recent study by the Brookings Institutions, written about here by the New York Times.)
Barron said the university must focus on helping students to graduate in four years; an extra year of college, he said, is the “biggest tuition increase.” Among the ideas he floated: emphasizing the summer semester, possibly through “online summers” with reduced tuition for students with financial need or a “cost-contained” summer on campus, once the university could determine the break-even point for expenses.
He also said that he’d like Penn State to raise money to cover the “unmet need” many students have in paying for college after loans, scholarships, and grants. He noted that those students work to make up the money, and that extra time on the job can cause difficulties in the classroom. He would like to find a way that students don’t need to work more than 20 hours a week—he calculated that would cost the university $25 million for all in-state students at Penn State. He called it the Penn State Promise.
“Some of these things won’t work,” he said. “I’m talking a little bit out loud—let’s get strategic, let’s focus on these things.”
Several of the trustees praised the report, and Barron indicated he would tackle the other five issues in upcoming meetings.
Lord’s resolution: Generally, the way Penn State’s board has worked is that resolutions come up through the committees. Lord introduced this resolution, however, to the full board.
He said the trustees haven’t done anything with the Freeh report—except to fulfill the recommendations Freeh made and hand the report over to the NCAA, which in turn used the findings to impose sanctions. “By virtue of the fact that we didn’t reject it, the board tells me that they didn’t accept it,” he said. “To me, the absence of a rejection is acceptance.”
He said that “everyone has been sitting on their hands” waiting for the criminal trial of Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and Tim Curley ’76, ’78g. “I’m afraid that case is going to be dismissed,” he said, “and it’ll be ‘Penn State got out of it because of a technicality.’ I want the truth. I am hopeful of where it leads. I have very strong beliefs of where it will lead. But if any of those guys were guilty, then they belong in jail.”
Lord said he would be happy to provide specifics of incomplete parts of Freeh’s report, but he wanted to refresh his memory of the details before he did so. “I’m sort of brain dead after that mind-numbing conversation all afternoon,” he said.
Freeh did not have subpoena power; in his report, he indicated that was why he did not speak to the primary figures in the Sandusky scandal, among them Schultz, Curley, Joe Paterno, and Mike McQueary ’97. (Spanier did meet with Freeh’s investigators.) Said Lord: “Louis Freeh would tell you that, Look, I couldn’t talk to this guy because he’s part of a criminal investigation. But you’re talking about seven people, the seven key people who know what happened or as much as anybody knows about what happened—he never talked to anybody. I understand that some of them have claimed privilege because they’re in a criminal case, but that means [Freeh is] not finished.”
As if all that weren’t enough, here are a few additional—shorter—items from the meeting:
—Masser ran unopposed for chair and will serve for another year. Kathleen Casey ’88, a gubernatorial appointee, defeated Bill Oldsey ’76, an alumni-elected trustee, for the vice chair position. As usual, vote totals were not announced.
—Casey’s election as vice chair opened up an at-large position on the executive board, and the trustees voted to fill the spot with Ryan McCombie ’70. He is the first of the alumni trustees elected post-Sandusky scandal to be appointed to the executive committee.
—The board granted emeritus trustee status to Samuel Hayes and Paul Suhey ’79, with all nine alumni trustees abstaining. Anthony Lubrano ’82 suggested again that emeritus trustee status be delayed until governance reform is enacted.
—The board approved a $4.6 billion budget for 2014-15 with a tuition increase of 2.99 percent for University Park and increases ranging from zero to 2.4 percent for other campuses.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Entry filed under: Board of Trustees.