Allen L. Soyster, Ballot Position No. 30

SoysterAllen L. Soyster ’65 Eng

Professor of industrial engineering
Northeastern University
Philipsburg, Pa.

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

1. Describe how you think the relationship between the Board of Trustees and the university president should function.

Actually, the relationship is already well defined in our Board Bylaws. However, in recent times this relationship must have been on “cruise control,” an era in which, apparently, the flow of information into and from the Board was confused and compromised. To the Board’s credit, the cancel “cruise control” button has been pushed. But there is another navigation button on the dashboard (“information”) which deserves attention. This “information” button is the Role of the Board found on our Board website. By simply following its own time-tested roles and responsibilities, the recent breakdown and conflict between the past President and the Board would have been avoided. What are these responsibilities which define this relationship? Two Board responsibilities stand out to me: One, “… the Board shall carry out certain responsibilities, without delegation (emphasis added)… • …the determination of the major goals of the University…..” Second, the Board • “…has a continuing obligation to require information or answers on any University matter of concern…” The Bylaws also specify that the President “shall see that” Board policies and programs “are carried out.” What could be clearer? The Board needs to share the vision and aspirations of its Major Goals and post on its website. In doing so, the Board transitions focus from the past to the future, asserts its rightful authority and inspires the alumni and University community. Furthermore, this posting might replace the (very tired, 119-item) “Freeh Report Card” and, in doing so, symbolically show that we welcome our new President into a new era.

2. What would you do to help heal the university community and to assist the university as it continues to recover from the Sandusky scandal?

The ongoing and passionate commitment of alumni groups to heal the university community by reshaping the Board composition is likely doomed for disappointment. Why? The alumni can only directly impact the election of nine of 30 voting members. What about the other 21? There are six Business/Industry Trustees. These Trustees appear to be elected by themselves. These six (two per year) are elected by a committee of five Trustees appointed by the Board Chairman, which must include, strikingly, three incumbent Business/Industry Trustees. In contrast, the six Agricultural Trustees are elected by representatives of various Pennsylvania Agricultural Societies. No doubt our Business/Industry Trustees have dedicated many years of service to PSU (the three longest-serving average over 15 years), but maybe this election process should change. The newly formed (2013) Governance and Long-Range Planning Committee, to their credit, is exploring ideas on how to improve governance (Centre Daily Times, March 6). However, the CDT headline is “Little Progress as Penn State Trustees Start Governance Reform Talks.” Here is a reform idea. Change the Board Bylaws so our business/industry constituents play a role (as they did from 1905 to 2002) in the selection of Business/Industry Trustees. Penn State is blessed with long-standing Advisories (Engineering, Business, Information Science, etc.) with talented individuals, representing all segments of business/industry. Give them some decision-making role. Such a revision by our Board would send a clear message to our alumni clamoring for change. And heaven forbid, maybe the Business/Industry Trustees might even include an engineer.

3. What, in your view, are the major fiscal challenges Penn State will face over the next three years—and how should the university address them?

Penn State students pay the second-highest tuition among public institutions in the country. Is it little wonder that PSU graduates (New York Times, 2012) are the most indebted in the Big Ten? How is this explained? One factor, undoubtedly, is that Pennsylvania funds higher education at $3,875/student (45th lowest in the nation). But this fact does not relieve the Board of taking action toward a more affordable Penn State, especially since the national average is only $2,000 higher. What can be done without affecting our acknowledged high quality? Some universities are adopting a financial model called Resource Centered Management (RCM). The basic idea is to decentralize revenues and costs by individual colleges. For example, the College of Engineering collects its own tuition (and research revenues, gifts, etc.) and then pays its own salaries, “rents” its space, and pays appropriate fees for university services. With innovation as the driver, individual colleges are inherently motivated to increase revenues and eliminate waste. Such a model allows the individual colleges to optimize multi-year plans, sometimes withholding expenditures in one year in to be used in later years, all to the benefit of our students. (RCM was adopted at Northeastern, my employer, in 2010.) Implementation of an RCM model at Penn State would require a multi-year, major budgeting overhaul. My recommendation would be to charter a one-year feasibility study and benchmark other schools, public and private, which have taken this step. U.S. business/ industry cannot survive without continuing innovation; in the long run, neither can Penn State.

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