Robert J. Bowsher, Ballot Position No. 25
Writer and accountant
Read Bowsher’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.
From now on, let’s hope we never hear these words spoken on a Penn State campus: “The President has the Board of Trustees in his hip pocket.” For Penn State to thrive in the 21st century, the Board of Trustees and the university president must foster a professional relationship that is above reproach. The current separation of duties must remain intact. The Board of Trustees should continue setting the overarching policies and approving the university’s budgets. The President should continue handling the day-to-day management and control of the university. The Board of Trustees must also continue respecting the President’s autonomy; faculty and staff must never be led by a president who’s merely a Board of Trustees puppet. The President should always be a primary source of information for the Board of Trustees, but certainly not the only source. Standing Order IX must be rewritten so that trustees can contact faculty, staff, students, and other Penn State constituents without needing the President’s approval. The Board of Trustees should evaluate the President’s performance annually. The trustees should also seek feedback from the President in order to strengthen their collaborative working relationship. The Board of Trustees and the President should have an arm’s-length social relationship. It’s natural and permissible for friendships to form between trustees and the university president. However, they should not be spending weekends or vacations together, and under no circumstances should the trustees and the university president ever become drinking buddies.
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?
When it comes to healing the university community in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, I believe no one has kicked the can further down the road than the trustees. We must lead this recovery ourselves. I commend everyone who organized and participated in the November 2011 Old Main Candlelight Vigil that left the press speechless and in awe of what Penn State looks like, literally and figuratively, in its best light. As a trustee, I would acknowledge anyone who reminds us what Penn State stood for before this horrible tragedy unfolded. I propose a “Plaza of Honor” be built where the Joe Paterno statue and the Players’ Wall once stood. Surrounding a new statue of Coach Paterno would be a wall inscribed with the names of all the football players who made the selfless choice to stay at Penn State after the NCAA imposed its unprecedented sanctions. I would also encourage Dr. Barron and the other executive leaders to make us believe again that hard work pays off on the Penn State campuses. The recent high-profile firings of legendary coaches Joe Paterno and Emmanuil Kaidanov sent the wrong message to our talented faculty and staff. It’s time for a community-oriented work environment, like the one Penn State had in the 1960s, to rise again at our alma mater. To make Penn State a better place, we must make Penn State a better workplace.
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?
Two of Penn State’s biggest financial wells—state appropriations and tuition dollars—are drying up fast. Over the next three years, the university will need to address these fiscal challenges by maximizing alternative revenue sources like the Hershey Medical Center, by reining in wasteful spending and by ensuring construction projects stay within budget. The Hershey Medical Center, currently generating over 30 percent of the university’s income, will experience greater demand for its services as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Hospitals that are well run financially often produce the best clinical outcomes, so any quality control improvements made at the Hershey Medical Center will do wonders for Penn State’s reputation and financial viability. It would also help if the trustees and university leaders stopped wasting so much money on overpriced, out-of-state consultants and public relations firms. Those millions need to be invested instead into programs that reduce tuitions and programs that directly benefit the Penn State community. As noted, construction projects need to stay within budget. The HUB-Bookstore Renovation project was $1.7 million over budget at the 14 percent completion stage. At this rate, that project could end up costing Penn State well over $50 million. I’m all for renovating the HUB and the Bookstore, but not at that price. Over the next three years, the trustees and university leaders will need to live within Penn State’s means so our alma mater can survive the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.