Frederik O. Riefkohl, Ballot Position No. 20
Senior vice president
Read Riefkohl’s official bio and position statement here (PDF download).
1. What should Penn State be looking for in its next president?
In order to determine what we are looking for in a president, we first need to understand what the problems and challenges of the university are today and probably will be going forward. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Lack of leadership
2. Financial challenges due to shrinking federal funds allocations and higher cost of education
3. Financial challenges related to the Jerry Sandusky case
4. Lack of trust in the university leadership
5. Lack of transparency to the decision making process of the university
6. Serious deficiency of managing public relations and communications
7. A very large institution with multiple and complex areas of study, operations structures and locations
8. The rapid change in methods of education and the pressures of on-line education Whoever we decide is our next president needs to have the depth and experience to deal with these issues. We will need a leader first and foremost. Someone who all the stakeholders of the university can trust and follow, including: students; their parents; faculty; alumni; local community; funding sources both public and private; and federal and state overseers. The next president should probably need to be a nationally recognized figure or have the capacity to quickly be one. Penn State is now a global institution. Our next president needs to be the definition of “be global but act local.”
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.
I believe the following are the most important items that need to change at the board:
1. The executive committee composition needs to be reduced to 8 members, 3 of which must be from Alumni trustees, 2 from Agriculture, 2 from Business and Industry and the Chairman.
2. All decisions required between scheduled board meetings should include a majority of the full board and a super-majority for emergency decisions.
3. A majority of votes (50%+1) should be required for all decisions of the board and a super-majority for certain major decisions such as large capital programs and for emergency situations.
4. The governor of Pennsylvania and president of the university should not be voting members of the board.
5. The business and industry trustees should be selected in a democratic way through organizations already established that address the fields of engineering, business and technology or alternatively by a committee made up of (in the areas of engineering, business and technology) faculty, students and members of business at the state level (again through the same organizations). They should definitely NOT be selected by the board of trustees.
6. Although NOT a priority, the size of the board should be carefully analyzed to determine if it should be reduced in size. I am not a big proponent of a size reduction IF the prior recommendations are put in place.
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 the trustee is rapidly changing across all institutions of higher learning. Surveys show there is an increasing divergence between what the boards believe the right thing for the university is, and what its stakeholders want and need from its services and products. There appears to be growing divergence, at Penn State in particular, between the board and its stakeholders in topics such as: short term vs long term priorities; the increasing costs of tuition; the perceived conflict between athletics and academics; the amount of communication and inclusion with its stakeholders; and the role of the board itself. I truly believe the role of a trustee, like on other boards, is to provide long term planning for the institution served and to help guide the institution through challenges into a stated vision of the future. This vision needs to be communicated, needs to be inclusive and it needs to be realistic. I believe the role of a trustee is to oversee the implementation of that vision. To help guide the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA):
1. To plan for best case and worst case scenarios.
2. To guide in the implementation of those strategies.
3. To monitor the success or failure of those strategies.
4. And to change course as required.
The role of the Alumni trustee is to represent those stakeholders that elected them and, like all other trustees, represent the best interests of the university as a whole (all stakeholders).