Thomas J. Day Jr., Ballot Position No. 53

Thomas J. Day Jr. ’88 Bus
Chief Executive Officer, West Point Products
Washington, Pa.

Read Day’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?

In order to secure our financial future, first I think we need to focus internally to ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible and controlling expenditures in two key areas: administrative costs and capital investments.  Second, we need to continue to drive fund raising with the goal of doubling our endowment in the next 3 to 5 years.  A healthy endowment is a key indicator of the long term financial viability of a university.    Our administrative costs are growing at an unsustainable rate, driven primarily by the rising number of administrative personnel relative to the number of students.  The ratio of our administrative staff per 100 students increased by almost 71% from 1993 – 2007.  Our current ratio of students to professors is 38 to 1, while our ratio of students to all University employees is 2 to 1.  We need to downsize where appropriate, to ensure that we are eliminating waste and redundancies.

Over the years we’ve invested significant capital in the construction new buildings for classrooms and laboratories, to the point where we now have excess capacity, and we are therefore underutilizing these facilities.  Even the Penn State Strategic Plan, Section 7.2 acknowledges this: “The University has invested in both the construction of classroom and laboratory.  Too often these facilities are not fully utilized-and the University constructs additional facilities.”  Beyond the initial costs of construction, facilities are expensive to operate with ongoing maintenance and utilities, and we can’t afford to have idle capacity.

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.

To decrease tuition, here are a few ideas to consider:  Freeze administrative salaries.  In these difficult economic times, many people wish they had salaries to freeze.  Before we build more buildings, let’s make sure we are fully utilizing our existing space by expanding our class schedule to fully include mornings, evenings, and Friday’s.  According to a 2005 story in Inside Higher Ed the number classes at Penn State scheduled for 8:00 a.m. has decreased over 46% from 1993 to 2005.  The Penn State Strategic Plan, Section 7.2, acknowledges:  “Classroom space at University Park is near fully utilized between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00. p.m. on a typical day, but much capacity is under-utilized at other times of the day.  While a notable reduction in the classroom utilization has occurred at 8:00 a.m., mid and late afternoon scheduling remains significantly lower.”

Explore the potential to share our abundance of labs and lab equipment with other universities, for a fee of course.  Let’s turn these idle assets into revenue producing streams.  Evaluate our core curriculum, and look for opportunities to eliminate courses that are esoteric, or overly narrow in scope.  We have hundreds of courses to choose from for general education, and these types of courses cost more to provide.  Let’s explore offering tuition rebates for students to complete their degree in four years, or less.  By getting our internal fiscal house in order, and maximizing our utilization of our facilities and equipment, we lesson our budgetary dependence on tuition.

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

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 allowed for the creation of Land Grant Universities, and each state confers this designation upon certain institutions to receive the benefits of the Act.  The core mission of land grant universities is teaching, research, and public service & outreach.  Other universities provide teaching and research, but only land grant universities have as part of their mandate service and outreach, the transfer of knowledge to the public.  Penn State was one of the first land grant institutions, and the only one in Pennsylvania.    The premise of the land grant university system was to enable a high quality education to be affordable to the masses.  In addition, these institutions promote economic development and general social welfare for their state.    Some critics argue that the “service and outreach” mandate has lost its relevance.  However, when we consider the significant amount of research that Penn State has conducted on the Marcellus Shale gas exploration, and the resulting wealth of information provided for benefit of the general public, I believe we would hard pressed to find an example anywhere else of an organization, public or private, addressing the need for this kind of valuable service.    I’m proud of our University’s heritage as one of the premier land grant institutions, and this is an area where I believe we’ve set an exemplary example for others to follow, and would recommend that we continue to pursue this mission in the form that has served us well for so many years.

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