John M. Mason, Ballot Position No. 13

MasonJohn M. Mason ’72 Hbg

Associate provost and vice president for research
Auburn University
Auburn, Ala.

Read Mason’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).

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1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?

Our next President of Penn State should:

• Possess the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities of a CEO responsible for a large complex organization,

• Articulate a clear and succinct vision for both sustaining and advancing Penn State’s land-grant mission,

• Demonstrate a firm understanding of the emerging academic challenges and opportunities associated with non-traditional, on-line instructional technologies,

• Address promptly the implications of increased financial burdens on attaining a degree at Penn State,

• Promote the economic benefits and contributions that Penn State provides to the State of Pennsylvania.

Early articulation of a clear vision for moving Penn State forward, coupled with creativity and ubiquitous accountability (in the classroom and within athletics), will ensure the continued, positive advancement of the University. Without fail, the President must possess excellent communication skills, support transparency of public operations, and promote shared governance, diversity and inclusiveness among all constituencies. Additionally, the President should practice with priority, the assurance of safety and well-being of any individual affiliated with Penn State. The President should possess a strong commitment to strategic planning and demonstrated experience with a geographically distributed land-grant university system. The next President will face an ever expanding on-line educational environment, while simultaneously addressing the impacts of sustaining traditional residential campus experiences. The challenges include quality education via alternative and massive open on-line courses. At issue is to what extent will Penn State be a global university, or a land-grant with global perspectives?

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 of the Penn State Board of Trustees (BOT) is inevitable. The teachable moments from the events of 2011-2012 include:

1. The BOT should, by behavior and statement, increasingly solicit inquiry with civility and respect of diverse viewpoints. It is essential that the BOT promotes clarity, transparency and a willingness openly debate complex issues.

2. The BOT should demonstrate increased depth of knowledge of operational matters (not for direct management, but for policy setting and oversight governance).

3. Establish structure and systems to ensure all BOT members have appropriate depth of knowledge regarding policies and procedures for both broad education and athletic related matters.

4. The BOT should conduct a comprehensive review of all recommendations proffered in The Auditor General Report (November 2012). Each recommendation of the PA Auditor General report requires varying degrees of assessment:

• Those recommendations addressing ex-officio non-voting changes, transparency and term limits hold ready merit. Such changes would be within the customary norms of governance at other public and peer institutions.

• The size of the BOT, and quorum requirement, need careful review to ensure balance of knowledge, expertise and diversity. Any modifications must recognize that Penn State is geographically distributed, has expansive academic degree programs and represents a broad constituency within its land-grant mission.

• Conflict of interest questions, financial disclosures and ethic laws should each be immediately addressed and satisfied in expeditious manner.

• Changes to emeritus status must assess degree of value-added in their respective roles, responsibilities and influence.

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?

It is imperative that a university develops and maintains excellent relationships with its alumni, as they routinely serve as stewards for various university initiatives. Alumni trustees help ensure the strength of the connection between alums and their alma mater. As an alumni trustee, I will thoughtfully consider issues that are before the board, and actively seek input from alumni. After engaging with alumni, my decisions will always be in the best long-term interest of Penn State. Alumni trustees have the specific responsibility to reach out and listen to alumni views in the broadest sense. I would solicit input through personal discussions, traditional communication options, and social media networks. As this role requires representing the views of all PSU alums, I would also work with regional alumni association chapters to engage in direct discussions with their members. It is essential that trustees perform their duties by balancing and aligning differing, competing and divergent interests of various individuals and organizations. As such, all trustees should participate by seeking consensus and considering the long horizon effects/implications of their decisions. Board members must understand and appreciate the differences between governing and managing to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in resolving matters entrusted to the Board.

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