Ben J. Novak, Ballot Position No. 17
Ave Maria, Fla.
Read Novak’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Penn State was facing a crisis even worse, perhaps, than the present one. The Trustees were petitioned to remove president Calder for cruelty to students; Philadelphia newspapers were claiming that the institution was a fraud; the governor was antagonistic; the legislature was so angry that it ordered all salaries at Penn State cut by 10 percent. A new president was sorely needed. The man the Trustees found, George Atherton, was a visionary. In 1882, when he became president, the graduating class consisted of only seven students. But he believed that this tiny institution had enough spirit to become one of the greatest universities in America. He communicated that faith to everyone he met. By recognizing and fostering the spirit of Penn State, George Atherton rescued the University and started us on our way. Now we are in a crisis once again, and we need a president who is a visionary, who believes in the spirit of Penn State, someone who will believe in us and call out the best in us, and someone who can once again communicate that faith to others. George Atherton led by sharing a vision, and he taught every part of the Penn State to cooperate for the sake of that vision. That is what made Penn State so great—he invited us all to have a part. Once again we need a visionary and outstanding leader able to make us believe in Penn State and ourselves.
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.
The most important change is to get the Trustees to stop trying to run the place. That is not their job. As Trustees, they are neither to manage the institution nor act as its CEOs. They hold the University in trust—not as their personal fiefdom. From the very first day of the current crisis, the Trustees decided to take over Penn State. They pushed aside Steve Garban as chairman of the Board; ordered president Spanier to make no statements in defense of Penn State; and ordered Joe Paterno’s press conference cancelled. Then they fired them both. They shoved aside Penn State’s own office of University Relations in order to hire their own succession of public relations and crisis management firms, which as of February 2013 have cost the University $41 million. The present crisis has been brought on solely by Trustees who believed that they could run the University better—by outsourcing it—than the people they put in charge of it. Trustees are just that—people entrusted with something they are obligated to preserve “in trust.” But since the 1980s, the Board of Trustees have inserted themselves into the running of the institution and created little but mistrust. They need to loosen their hold on the structure to allow greater freedom and creativity in all parts of the University. The Board must find a new president who can lead us freely and enthusiastically to work together for the good of Penn State.
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 role of an alumni Trustee is to make sure that the institution is still recognizable to its alumni long after they graduate. This means assuring that the same great educational experience is still there for future generations of students. It also means keeping the spirit of Penn State alive and vibrant. The alumni Trustees must provide to the other members of the Board an understanding of the continuity of the institution, and faith in the Penn State spirit. The alumni are the bond and assurance that the same great Penn State spirit, which took us from the Farmers High School to the great research and teaching University of today, will continue to guide the institution. The members who were on the Board of Trustees in 2011 have violated that trust. They have sowed dissension and mistrust. They have divided us and embarrassed us. It must be the duty of alumni Trustees elected since 2012 to change the Board to reflect genuine Penn State spirit.