Samuel M. Loewner, Ballot Position No. 61

Samuel M. Loewner ’10 Lib
Social Media Specialist, MAXIMUS, Inc.
Reston, Va.

Read Loewner’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?

The only long-term way to secure our financial future is to spend our money wisely. Although the Commonwealth should support us more enthusiastically, it isn’t prudent to depend on the governor and state legislature to sustain our budget.

When it comes to physical plant and human resources spending, we need to make sure that our investments directly impact educational opportunities for students. Improving administrative buildings or beautifying campuses must take a backseat to classrooms, student research facilities, and quality instructional and support staff.

In an even broader sense, Penn State should adjust the manner in which it develops alumni and donor relationships. We can maintain our focus on cultivating strong ties with wealthy donors who make substantial gifts, but we must also actively engage recent graduates and young alumni who can provide small gifts to support the Penn State community.

The Board has a responsibility to define acceptable spending at the University. They can learn more about the ramifications of their financial decisions if they make themselves more accessible to alumni throughout the world. As a Trustee, I will schedule regular meetings with large alumni chapters and communicate online with alumni, students, and all others who are interested in the future of higher education at Penn State.

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.

As any administrator will tell you, the most expensive item in Penn State’s budget is personnel. Although it is easy to point at construction and building maintenance as examples of excess, one of the largest factors contributing to increased tuition – at Penn State and elsewhere – is “administrative bloat.” Universities like Penn State have hired non-instructional staff at an incredible rate over the last two decades.

Some of these staff members perform essential functions, and they alone are not responsible for the increase in tuition. Many, like those in the alumni relations and donor development divisions, are tasked with increasing revenue to support students. In difficult financial times, however, institutions have a responsibility to slow the growth of administrative support organizations. Penn State should become a national leader in combating the disturbing trend of administrative bloat.

As a trustee, I will work with my Board colleagues to set goals as a part of the Penn State strategic plan that set an ideal level for the ratio of non-instructional staff to instructional staff. This will allow us to publicly benchmark personnel growth over the next several years.

Trustees need to listen to the most important stakeholders at our institution: students. Students can tell us what services require more support and which they do not use. Instead of gambling with tuition dollars, the Board can use this information to make even more educated assessments about the budget and control costs in a way that actually supports education instead of hindering it.

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

We don’t need to reimagine our land-grant mission. We need to remember it!  As an institution, our University is designed to cultivate well-rounded students who have a practical understanding of the world around them. The original law prescribed a study of pure science and humanities as well as a focus on applied studies like engineering and social science. Although the world has changed, this still provides a usable roadmap for our University. We must continue to make these educational opportunities available to members of every income bracket.

The most substantial opportunity to change our land-grant mission comes in the form of new technologies. As a land-grant school, we must take very seriously the chance to educate students remotely. Online education should not be viewed as a chance to further monetize education and to sell recorded lectures to people who cannot make it to a Penn State campus. Instead, we need to view it as a chance to connect our incredible faculty with eager students anywhere in the world. We need to view it as a chance to connect students to one another even if they are in different states, countries, or continents. I am sure that it can be done, but it requires serious research and direction from the Board of Trustees. I will work to the best of my ability to organize these efforts, as this issue is of paramount importance.

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