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2023 Alumni Trustee Election: Watch Dogs Not Lap Dogs

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Despite what some of the campaign rhetoric might suggest, the role of a Penn State Trustee is not to rubber stamp some fictional alignment with everything that is sent our way to approve. Our service to Penn State requires that we behave as WATCH DOGS not LAP DOGS. Jay Paterno, Alice Pope and Anthony Lubrano have a track record of proven vigilance. As you look to make your vote in 2023 this is an important consideration.

A solemn trust must exist between this University and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, its taxpayers and the students and families who are paying tuition to get an education here at Penn State. We have a fiduciary responsibility to find savings, new revenues and efficiencies to make Penn State a better steward of the financial resources that have been entrusted to us by the Commonwealth and our students.

Here are examples of how we’ve acted as vigilant watch dogs. Some of the projects we’ve supported. Some we’ve stopped. And some we opposed only to have our position proven right over time.

1. Our push to improve the administration’s transparency to the Board included successful litigation to ensure full compliance in disclosure of all information needed to do our jobs as Trustees.

2. We utilized inexpensive financing to pay down a major chunk of Penn State’s state pension funding liability. That will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings over the next several years as well as shore up our balance sheet.

3. We voted to support Penn State’s investment in solar energy and research in renewable energy. Penn State’s Franklin County solar farm and University Park solar research facility provide over 25% of our energy needs state-wide. They’re projected to save the University $14 million annually in energy costs. (For reference a 1% tuition hike for in-state students is around $14-16 million).

4. We supported Penn State’s public/private partnership for our two on-campus hotels which created new revenue sources. The partnership will utilize private investment for major renovations and upgrades for the two hotels.

5. We voted for major facilities upgrades for the Applied Research Laboratory and other research facilities that generate massive returns on investments both academically and financially for Penn State. Research generates over $1 billion a year including a $2.1 billion 10-year contract with the Defense Department.

6. We voted to support state-supported construction funding for new facilities in the College Of Engineering. The United States has a national shortage of engineers, and our new facilities will ensure that our graduates are among the best-prepared in the world.

7. Jay Paterno, Alice Pope and Anthony Lubrano were the Trustees who discovered and stopped wasteful spending on an unneeded elitist $14 million private elevator and Presidential suite renovation plan at Beaver Stadium. Knowing that any construction project over $10 million required full board approval, the project was intentionally broken into 2 parts to hide it. We felt that spending $14 million so that certain people wouldn’t have to wait a few extra minutes to go up to the President’s suite was money that could be better spent elsewhere.

8. We repeatedly asked for clarification on the source of funding for matching funds programs designed to increase philanthropy. Part of the current budget deficits are the result of the previous administration’s less than transparent sharing of information.

9. We voted against borrowing to build an $84 million Palmer Museum of Art. The spending was rationalized by mischaracterization of a projected 400,000 annual museum visitors to the museum. In fact, a closer look revealed that the study never suggested that level of visitors to the museum itself. A number of Trustees have since told us that they wish they’d have voted with us to stop the project.

10. When asked to approve borrowing $48.5 million for a new weight room we wanted to know the total facilities spending plans for football including the renovation and maintenance needs of Beaver Stadium. We felt investing first in revenue-increasing upgrades to Beaver Stadium could fund the other facility upgrades. Among the people who agreed with our stance were two of the Governor’s Secretaries including the State Secretary of Education. Several weeks after the vote the full extent and amount of Beaver Stadium maintenance needs were revealed to the full board. A number of other Trustees indicated to us that if the full amount had been known they too would have pushed to renovate Beaver Stadium first.

Penn State needs Trustees who act as watch dogs not as lap dogs and do so in a way that is constructive not combative. The past few years have seen this board become more cohesive and collaborative than it has been in well over a decade.

As our new President points us towards a future of challenges for all major universities, continuity of proven collaborative vigilance and experience will be vital for long-term success.


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