Robert J. Hooper, Ballot Position No. 24
President, chair of board
Vermont State Employees Association
Read Hooper’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
An independent thinker but a collaborative and INCLUSIVE worker. It seems that “a” root of the problem we have had over the last few years has been a struggle for power at the executive board level. I clearly want to separate the concept of LEADERSHIP from POWER in this discussion. My review of the functional relationship between board members results in a determination that the quest for power within the executive committee and the executive officers added to the problem rather than facilitated solutions. The evidence of that is clear, demonstrated when they cleaned house using the unproven allegations against three top administrators and a football coach as justification. The next President will need to develop a relationship with ALL board members so as to rely upon the decision making of the full body, and not just the Chair and the selected influential decision makers. We will need a President with a strong background in governance, skilled in mastering the legislative/political process, to address appropriations issues with the legislature.
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.
Reform and restructuring are needed. The size of the board is a liability and the Wagner reforms are a good but not great starting point. I prefer the Horst plan for distributing votes on the board, favoring an INCREASE in alumni participation and power. I would neither introduce new nor eliminate B/I or Agriculture positions, but would decrease their number, or force some of those positions to be filled ONLY by qualified alumni. I would not place faculty or staff on the board with voting power, as they are effectively employees of the board. However, a non voting seat would be guaranteed. I would seek to modify the standing orders and bylaws so as to clarify and support the ability of any trustee to communicate effectively with both their constituents and the Penn State Community as a whole, with no fear of the retaliation or expulsion that now exists. I would not stand for gag orders. I would alter the reporting structure of the staff so that important divisions within the University would have an obligation to the BOARD, and not the President, to report on issues facing the University. I would not stand for gatekeeping by executive officers. I would seek to devote significant time to addressing the issue of ever rising tuition cost and the need for significant support from the Commonwealth to keep PSU at the top of the ranking of public universities. The Board must seriously promote an investment in the education of our next generation.
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?
First, I would take some issue with the phrasing of the question. We are trustees elected BY the alumni, but once ELECTED, we become obliged to represent and execute the fiduciary obligation placed upon the Board of Trustees as a whole. We are alumni who are elected as trustees but our role is not to exclusively represent the interest of the alumni. Our obligation is to do what is RIGHT FOR PENN STATE. I am elected to a board that manages a $3.6 Billion retirement fund, by the participants. However, once elected, my fiduciary obligation is to the fund AND its members—often a fine line to walk. That said, I feel our obligation is to distribute information on the pressing issues before the board, solicit input from the alumni on possible solutions to problems since our alumni are such a significant resource, and to act in the best interest of the University. Acting in that interest does not in any way preclude heavily considering or advancing the perspective of the alumni. Justification for positions must be maintained. I am currently retired and have the time to devote to this endeavor with no distraction. I would maintain a web and social media presence that would keep alumni informed and offer a central location for discussion of issues before the board. I would be vocal in the press BEFORE Board meetings hoping to influence other trustees decisions. I would work collaboratively with ALL trustees to try to build consensus on issues.