Russell T. Larson, Ballot Position No. 42

Russell T. Larson ’72, ’72, ’74g Lib
Controller General, State of Delaware
Dover, Del.

Read Larson’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?

Pennsylvania is not unique in its budget problems. It is, however, probably one of the most damaging to its institutions of higher education. If I’ve done the math correctly, PA is the bottom 10% in the country for per/capita state supported funding. My job in Delaware is to recommend state funding for all programs and I’ve seen the major cuts we’ve had to make to remain fiscally stable.  Nevertheless, we’ve still held the belief that funding for state supported schools is of paramount importance and, in fact, an obligation. State support is, of course, only one issue with maintaining some fiscal integrity and stability. We must continue to pursue the wealth of other revenue sources such as grants and research projects. The president and the board must remain diligent in its quest for private support. And we must constantly review our programs, goals, and direction. We must adapt to an ever changing environment, which, in theory, is what makes a great university great.

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.

Every year I read the national publications showing how the states compare on funding and tuition prices. I’m now in Delaware which can’t exactly brag about its tuition rate. On the other hand, Penn State is consistently in the upper levels of student tuition as a percentage of the total cost of education. Clearly, tuition at Penn State is outpacing the ability of many Pennsylvanians to be able to afford to attend.  The only ways to change that are 1. Provide more state or private funding and 2. Reduce the cost of the education.  The issue of state funding I addressed in the first response. The issue of the cost of an education is far more difficult to address.  What does it take to hire and keep the highest quality teaching and research staff?  How much should be spent to continue building the campus as it grows into one of the largest, most diverse, and progressive universities in the country? What does it cost to run a university? I would tackle these and other fiscal questions starting on day one if elected.

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

Penn State is a land-grant college. It is a product of the Morrill Act of 1862 with the intention of teaching of practical agriculture, science and engineering. Funding issues aside, it was clear in 1862 that congress wanted to emphasize the value of the “practical” sciences while not losing touch with the classics or liberal arts. The importance of this has been made clear countless times but probably the most visible with the “green” revolution of Dr. Borlaug. My father worked with Dr. Borlaug and when he became Dean of Agriculture (and, subsequently Provost) he worked diligently buying as much property as he could to develop the Ag. Research Center in Pine Grove. The main campus was squeezing out the agricultural sciences – the original purpose of the college. To me, a land-grant college is by definition exactly as proscribed in the Morrill Act. There may be many reasons to consider changing to a private institution. I would be happy to consider any and all arguments. However, I would not be amenable to changing the original purpose of a land-grant college. If we are to explore the possibility of going private like Cornell or MIT we cannot lose sight of the sciences that got us to this point.

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