Christopher R. Owens, Ballot Position No. 31
Mobile banking manager
Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union
Read Owens’ official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
Penn State should seek a President who is well-versed in dealing with the Commonwealth on matters including funding requests and managing higher education. The President should also be able to think outside the box to address some pressing issues. Large universities, like Penn State, face external pressures from reduced Federal and State funding while trying to compete with smaller and more affordable schools. Online and distant learning has helped institutions operate with reduced overhead and, in turn, reduced costs. In today’s post recession world, young people are more price sensitive to tuition and Penn State is far from a leader in this area. In 2008, when I was searching to enroll in an MBA program, Penn State was the most expensive of all the central PA options. I completed my MBA from Shippensburg University rather than my undergraduate alma mater of Penn State for this very reason. The next President should be capable of moving Penn State forward in the 21st century to reduce the risk of pricing ourselves out of the market. This will take a creative thinker who is able to redefine the role of Penn State to meet the demands of society, while remaining true to Penn State’s agricultural roots.
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.
Since 2011 there have been a half dozen reports written on Board reform. These include the Freeh Report, the Paterno (Former Gov. Thornburgh) Report, the Jack Wagner (Former PA Auditor General) Report, and the report completed by the Faculty Senate. Further, there are hundreds of thousands of alumni who are vocally upset at the current Board and where it stands on issues. I attended the Board Governance Committee at Hershey in mid-March, as well as the PA Senate hearing in Harrisburg on the subject. From these meetings I learned the Board has only considered reforming itself by examining recommendations including the Penn State President and PA Governor become non-voting members of the Board. However, they have yet to vote or enact any changes. The Board has taken a painfully slow and overly cautious pace to reform. One reason for this is the Board’s size, which is one item they have yet to address. I would reform the Board by reducing its size. This would improve the Board’s ability to act in times of crisis and enact other reforms. The Board is also misaligned with alumni on topics such as the firing of Joe Paterno, the blind acceptance of the Freeh report, and the acceptance of NCAA punishments. Seeing this, the biggest reform of all is in your hands. By voting all incumbents off the Board and adding meaningful provisions for future removal of Board members, we can reform the Board.
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 Board consists of 32 individuals, most of whom are not elected. These include members appointed by the Governor of PA, members selected by Agricultural Societies, as well as members selected by a questionable Business & Industry (B&I) process. The only elected members of the Board are the alumni representatives. When I attended the PA Senate hearing on Penn State Board reform in March 2013, former Trustee Robert Horst (1992-1995) detailed how B&I Trustees form a corrupt power bloc on the Board who are major benefactors from the University. We have all witnessed this group operate since 2011 and it is clear the B&I Board members need to be kept in check. My role as an Alumni Trustee would be to represent the voice of the alumni, act as a faithful steward of the University, and repair the damage caused by these Trustees. Joe Paterno always said, “If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.” The B&I Trustees’ mantra has been to pay thousands of dollars for outside help on topics such as Board Governance Reform while trying to tackle the “big things.” In doing so, they completely ignored readily available help from within the confines of the Smeal College of Business who are world experts on executive governance. As an elected Alumni Trustee, I would address issues that were in my control with help from within the Penn State community.