Ben Novak, Ballot Position No. 54

Ben Novak ’65, ’99g Lib IDF
Immokalee, Fla.

Read Novak’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).

Answers to Questions

1. In view of sharply declining state appropriations, what steps should Penn State be taking to secure its financial future?

Penn State will do much better all around when the Board of Trustees begins to talk straight. For years, our Board has played the game of “we’re public when we want to be public and private when we want to be private.” At some point we have to decide—are we the flagship University of the Commonwealth? Pennsylvania’s Land Grant University?  The State University?—or aren’t we?       Second, the Board has to come clean on the budget. Its secretiveness on the budget has been so extreme that it makes the world wonder: What are they hiding? Calls and proposals are cascading through the legislature for open budgets, open records. Then there are the tricks. Back in the ‘90s while I was still on the Board, the legislature established the “Tuition Challenge” to keep all state-supported colleges from raising tuition more than 6%. The Board thought it was being very clever in finding a “loophole.” It could keep the tuition increases to less than 6% by adding new student fees that brought the total amount paid by students back up to the 9% it wanted anyway. Neither the legislature, nor the students, nor their parents were amused. The first and most important thing the Board of Trustees can do to improve Penn State’s financial future is to repair its own credibility.

2. The rising cost of tuition nationally is making college less affordable for many students. Outline the steps you believe Penn State should be taking to address the issue.

In the mind of the legislature, the purpose of the state appropriation is to keep tuition low. But, according to US News and World Report, among public universities, Penn State has the “highest tuition and fees for in-state students” in the country. Governor Corbett recently challenged Penn State to do something about it, saying, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”  Simply put, when the appropriation is applied to reduce tuition, state support is justified. When it isn’t, state support declines.  A great deal of the tuition increase comes from the increasing cost of administration at Penn State. According to the most recent long-term study, between 1993 and 207, Penn State increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 70.8%, while increasing the number of teaching and research staff by only 5.3%. During the same period tuition increased 83.6%.   At the University of Pittsburgh, on the other hand, while administrators per 100 students increased 54.7%, teaching and research staff increased by a corresponding 61.7%, while tuition increased by only 71.9%.  Penn State will have to get its priorities straight to deal with the rising cost of higher education

3. What form should Penn State’s land-grant mission take in the 21st century?

Penn State’s Land-Grant mission has always had three prongs. First, educating the youth of the Commonwealth for the various jobs and professions needed in the economy. The greater part of the state appropriation was intended to supplement education costs so that tuition could be kept low. Penn State has one of the highest tuition rates of state universities in the country, and must dedicate itself to using the state appropriation to lower tuition rather than for increasing administrative bloat. The second Land-Grant mission is to provide research to serve the various sectors of Pennsylvania’s economy so that our graduates will find productive work. Penn State has performed admirably at staying on the cutting edge of research, which must now embrace the global economy.  The third prong is a broader goal. Justin Morrill always insisted that the goal of the Land-Grant Act was “not to secure resources, merely, but to build a new type of citizenship.” To our Founders, this meant building a university community in which all the parts and members feel that they have a stake. Over the past few decades, the growth of administration and its over-centralization at Penn State has dampened the ability of this type of community to bloom at Penn State. On this goal, Penn State has a long way to go to re-involve all its parts in a shared community.

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