Jennifer E. Bird-Pollan, Ballot Position No. 14

Bird-PollanJennifer E. Bird-Pollan ’99 Lib

Assistant professor of law
University of Kentucky College of Law
Lexington, Ky.

Read Bird-Pollan’s official bio and position statement here. (PDF download.)


1. Describe how you think the relationship between the Board of Trustees and the university president should function.

The Board of Trustees and the university president need to work together to ensure that the students and faculty of Penn State are given every possible opportunity for success. The relationship need not be antagonistic, but the Board has an obligation to monitor university administration. Trustees must be truly independent in order to provide the kind of oversight necessary. The most valuable members of the Board are those who can evaluate decisions objectively, putting the future of the university ahead of any personal agenda. While the President is, in many respects, the face of Penn State to the world, the Board has an obligation to vigilantly observe all operations of the university. This means spending time talking with students, faculty, and staff to make sure that their voices are heard and their first hand experiences are considered in decisions made by the administration. When members of the Board see the central administration making decisions that may jeopardize the future of the university, they must have the strength and foresight to act swiftly and decisively. This requires being deeply engaged with the administration at all times, but retaining sufficient independence to respond appropriately when necessary. At the same time, the Board must support the president in fundraising efforts and in advocating for the university at the state and federal level. Intelligent, educated, experienced and independent Trustees provide the best set of skills to serve Penn State as members of the Board.

2. What would you do to help heal the university community and to assist the university as it continues to recover from the Sandusky scandal?

The abominable behavior of Jerry Sandusky is reprehensible. That some of his crimes occurred on campus while he held a position of authority at Penn State makes many believe that the university could have (and should have) done more to protect the victims from this horrific abuse. My heart goes out to the victims of Sandusky’s despicable actions. However, rehashing the crimes and subsequent cover-ups wastes valuable time that could be better spent on thinking through Penn State’s academic future. As the premier public university in Pennsylvania, university administrators need to return the focus of the administration to the faculty and students. Faced with increasing financial strains, how can Penn State retain its stellar faculty and encourage young academics to join its ranks? How can the undergraduate programs recruit the best and brightest among Pennsylvania’s high school students to become Nittany Lions, rather than attending private colleges? How can Penn State burnish its international reputation as an institution of academic excellence, when the last few years have increased the focus on athletics? As a Trustee, I would work tirelessly to remind both the other members of the Board and the central administration that Penn State is first and foremost an institution of higher learning, where incredible individuals are engaged in world-class research and education. Focusing our attention on that success will help the Penn State community rise from the Sandusky scandal with our eyes on the future.

3. What, in your view, are the major fiscal challenges Penn State will face over the next three years—and how should the university address them?

Universities currently face significant financial challenges. Shrinking state support and rising costs mean universities must reevaluate how money is raised and spent. As a full-time faculty member at another large state university, I bring a unique perspective to the role of Trustee. The lack of faculty representation on the Board means that the voice of the Penn State faculty is too easily ignored. Faculty members are the university’s eyes and ears on the ground, and the university administration should do more to include faculty voices in financial decisions. In ensuring that faculty have the resources they need to do their jobs, the university administration should inquire into how best to support faculty grant applications. At the same time, sufficient resources should be directed to admissions, to ensure that high standards continue to be met among Penn State’s incoming classes. While Penn State has many excellent facilities, tough decisions may need to be made about construction or improvement priorities during these lean years. Such decisions must be made in a way that considers where spending is most likely to increase revenue, but also respects the educational mission of the entire university, even the areas that do not typically produce significant revenue. In the face of serious economic challenges, it is more important than ever that the Board and the president serve to protect Penn State’s faculty and students and the important role Penn State plays in educating young Pennsylvanians.

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