John W. Diercks, Ballot Position No. 6
Retired, U.S. Air Force
State College, Pa.
Read Diercks’ official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
Penn State’s next president needs to have strong leadership skills, charisma, the will to fight for the University’s best interests, and an ability to solve difficult problems. The next president must be able to manage without getting deep into details. He/she needs to have faith in others to manage the details. This characteristic is absolutely essential due to the demands on the president’s time. The individual should be seen frequently on the University Park Campus and branch campuses by students, faculty, and staff to build morale and confidence in significant decisions that affect the University. The next president needs to be able to clearly explain important decisions in an effort to be transparent to the University population and alumni. He/she must also be knowledgeable in academic, research, and financial issues to effectively lead a great public university. The individual should have demonstrated a past ability to solve difficult problems and to take the lead in fighting decisions by outside sources that would have had a negative impact on his/her past organization. The individual should not be laid back when it involves fighting for important issues that could affect the University. Another significant attribute should be an ability to work with the State legislature, alumni, Federal agencies, and corporations for the good of the University. This requires an outgoing personality. He/she needs common sense to lead, knowledge of the issues, and the fortitude to fight for what is right.
2. What changes or reforms should the Board of Trustees consider to help the university progress after the events of 2011 and 2012? Please explain why—or, if you don’t think reform is needed, please explain why not.
Before November 2011, the Board of Trustees (BoT) was a little known body. The Sandusky scandal thrust the BoT into the headlines, and it has failed in handling every major situation since. These failures demonstrated weaknesses in the Board and the need for reforms. I support removing the Governor and University President as voting members, reducing the size of the Board, and establishing term limits among other reforms. I caution on the reform bills already submitted to the Pennsylvania Legislature. One huge shortcoming is the proportion of democratically-elected board members by alumni in these reform bills. The bills keep the proportion of elected alumni positions at the same proportion as in the present structure with 32 members. If this doesn’t get changed, the Board will have the same proportion of non-elected, disinterested members on the board. The number of elected alumni should be increased at the expense of appointed and society-elected members. There are other major reforms needed to modernize the Board. One: change the standing rule that all votes are recorded as unanimous. All votes should be roll-call votes, and each member’s vote recorded in the minutes for transparency. Two: permit only members present at a meeting to vote. All votes should be based on informed knowledge of the issues. Three: reduce the number of appointments by the Governor to reflect the gradual reduction over the years in State funding. Now is the time for major reforms to strengthen the Board as an overseer of a great University.
3. How do you define the role of an alumni trustee, and how would that inform the way you would approach your term on the board?
The number one role of a trustee is strategic oversight of the University. This should be the role of a trustee elected by the alumni as well as society-elected and appointed trustees. To be an effective trustee, you have to think about where the University should be heading in the next three to five years. I see the highest goal of the University, and thus my actions on the Board, directed to restoring the public reputation of Penn State as an outstanding teaching and research university to what it was prior to the Sandusky scandal. For me this would require active involvement in committees responsible for University finances, academics, and public outreach. My participation would be to keep tuition increases at or below the rate of inflation, pay competitive salaries for faculty and staff, ensure high admission standards are maintained for incoming students, and maintain high credit ratings. A major failure of incumbents on the present Board was the handling of the firing of Coach Paterno and acceptance of the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions without a fight. This has cost the University dearly. I would be outspoken in fighting for repeal of the sanctions and repairing the reputation of a great coach. A single voice speaking for the entire board is the way this should be accomplished. If elected, I would help build consensus on the Board to fight back and to keep alumni informed of Board actions. This would help restore Board credibility with distrusting alumni.