Ted J. Sebastianelli, Ballot Position No. 30

SebastianelliTed J. Sebastianelli ’69 Bus

Retired deputy HR director
Military District of Washington, D.C.
State College, Pa.

Read Sebastianelli’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?

“For the future that we wait, Raise the song, raise the song.” In my view, selecting Penn State’s next president is the most critical hire in our history. The University has never been under more scrutiny than it is under now. We’ve squandered our treasure and desperately need a president to lead us out of the maelstrom. Penn State has a broad mission of teaching, research, and public service. Our next president must have demonstrated achievement in each of those areas. Penn State needs an educator with a diverse knowledge of classic subjects with good communications skills who has proven leadership abilities, someone capable of weaving that knowledge into everyday learning. We need a true torchbearer, someone capable of setting us apart from other public universities. “There’s a tsunami coming,” said esteemed Stanford President John Hennessy, referring to the mercurial growth of online education. Clearly, distance learning threatens one day to disrupt higher education by reducing the cost of college and by offering the convenience of a stay-at-home education. Penn State needs someone capable of predicting major change or even upheaval in American higher education. Someone who understands the role of president is to ensure future generations have the best possible education so today’s Penn State students can become tomorrow’s leaders in their chosen fields. Finally, our next president must fully support rigorous, aggressive programs of research and philanthropy if Penn State is going to flourish in the coming years.

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.

To no one’s surprise, this board will likely adopt several recommended changes I would put in the category of “no problem,” like extending the waiting period going from a university job to the board from three years to five. Yet, going from the board to a university position evidently hasn’t even been discussed. The real question is when, if ever, will they tackle true meaningful reform? In my opinion, they should protect free and open debate—any attempts to silence or intimidate others must be confronted strongly, they should stop paying lip service to transparency—this board continues to make bad decisions outside the purview of the public, like failing to break out the specific costs of the scandal. The board must also stop the cronyism—this president and board allowed a trustee to conveniently resign in order to take a $390,000 university job. The board should bring the university fully under the state’s Right-to-Know Law and make the Ethics Act immediately applicable to board members and high ranking employees. They should also remove the university president and governor completely, make the three remaining Ex Officio seats non-voting, reduce the size of the board significantly, set quorum at simple majority, set term limits of nine years, and review the awarding of emeritus status for trustees by severely restricting or eliminating it entirely. Finally, the board must change Penn State’s enabling statute, charter, bylaws, and standing orders to ratify these changes.

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?

As a local retiree, I have the advantage of being able to approach my first term with a wide open calendar and exceptional access to all, perhaps I should say much, that is Penn State. In this age of skyrocketing technology, there’s still nothing like being able to sit across the desk of a subject matter expert to discuss a particular issue. More than ever, board members must devote the time and attention to their fiduciary duties while being held fully accountable for their decisions and actions. In short, trustees must be fully engaged in the business of Penn State. The days of “country club” trustees must come to an end. We all should be concerned about the rising cost of education. Student debt has soared past a trillion dollars, far surpassing credit card debt. The University Park campus is the priciest four-year public university in the country. Penn State also has the highest student-loan default rate in the Big Ten. The default rate among Penn Staters was double the Big Ten average. Meanwhile, the average student-loan debt for Penn State graduates was nearly $7,000 more than the Big Ten average, more than $30,000 overall. We must look at options for adjusting the tuition and fee structure and develop better financial initiatives for students. We must also pick apart our practices and spending with a determination to keep costs within reach of every qualified student. If we don’t, we stand the risk of pricing ourselves out of the market.

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