Focusing on the Real Issues of The Alumni Trustee Election
Over the past two weeks there have been a lot of misrepresentations and assertions made with no factual basis. A lot of it has been directed at me personally; a coordinated effort among a few people on social media to question my commitment to Penn State.
So rather than continue a chorus on social media or complain to claim some victimhood, I’ve chosen to talk in detail about this Trustee election along with some of the assertions made about me.
As the Alumni Trustee election begins on Monday, let’s reset the emphasis about what this election should be all about.
Some people have encouraged a singular focus on football as what political consultants call a “litmus-test” issue in this election. More people will likely come forward to state the same thing. They believe it should be the one issue that drives your vote. Certainly, football brings people together. But make no mistake the support for football has been there all along, and I’ll discuss that in a moment.
At around $200 million in annual revenue, Athletics represents around 2% of Penn State’s total operating budget of over $8.4 billion. Penn State has roughly 850 student-athletes making up less than 1% of over 88,000 students system-wide. The main focus of this election should be on the 98% of our budget that impacts all students including the 99% of our students on our campuses that are not varsity athletes.
The election should be focused on our core academic and research mission.
We should be talking about student success initiatives like academic excellence, speed to graduation, mental health, and food and housing insecurity. We should be talking about holding tuition and finding ways to reduce it.
We should be talking about making Penn State a home to all people no matter what they look like, or how they worship, or where they come from, or how much money they make or who they choose to love or how they voted or the views they hold.
We should be finding new efficiencies and regaining our fiscal footing so hiring freezes and budget cuts in our academic units become a thing of the past. We should be more concerned about adjunct instructors teaching multiple courses making under $40,000 a year.
We should be talking about bolstering research that brings in over $1 billion annually to Penn State and attracts top-notch faculty and students to our campuses. We should be talking about boosting research at Penn State Health and guiding our multi-billion-dollar health system facing a hyper-competitive marketplace.
We should be talking about efforts that yield millions of dollars in savings and finding more efficiencies and new revenue sources in public/private partnerships. We should talk about investing in the future of sustainable energy, or A.I. or the emerging technologies. Let's make Penn State a driving force in an ongoing rebirth of American innovation.
We should be concerned that nearly 70% of voters aged 35-49 believe that a college education with student loans is a questionable investment. That generation is making or will be making decisions about college education for the next generation of students. People who voted to raise tuition should not be lecturing those who voted against every tuition increase.
There are even more issues, but you get the point. At our core, we should be looking to establish ourselves as the nation’s best land-grant university and fulfilling the mission established when we were founded.
To take on these challenges on, we should be focused on Alumni-elected Trustees talking about those issues to earn your vote. I’ve made it clear that those issues have been and will always be at the forefront of our service to Penn State.
As for the distracting chatter of late, there is a two-fold agenda here. One is to attack me because I’m up for election. The other is to try and attack Penn State’s efforts for Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and Success With Honor. People who see themselves as competing interests in the world of NIL likely believe they can damage both our election efforts and NIL efforts.
I’ve been a consultant working with a national company for over 3 years on NIL. And 15 months ago, when Penn State had no coordinated effort to create an NIL collective, a number of us decided to change that. As a Trustee acting on the advice of Penn State's legal counsel, I limited my role to starting it and then keeping a distance from the day-to day. My role doing interviews was to educate alumni and friends about a complex and evolving reality.
Let’s be clear, NIL is not a Trustee issue. But people who’ve neither written checks nor signed meaningful contracts and were nowhere to be found 15 months ago find it easy to cast stones at the efforts of others.
I’m not speaking for Success With Honor, but there are some facts that should be stated. They’ve delivered on and exceeded the requests made by both football and basketball. And they’ve signed contracts with members of all women’s and men’s teams at Penn State, making them a national leader. Industry people around the country are amazed by that.
We are Penn State, we can support all 31 sports to compete for conference and national championships; anyone suggesting otherwise vastly underestimates Penn State and our people. Saying only football and men’s basketball matter is not only an insult to all women’s teams but also an affront to men’s student-athletes in sports like wrestling, ice hockey and lacrosse.
And anyone insinuating that a football-only focus would somehow be in alignment with what their old college coach at Penn State would want, ignores that coach’s history advancing women’s and men’s sport as Penn State’s athletic director in the 1980s.
But enough about that, let’s focus on the second part of that agenda—one trying to influence the outcome of the election.
There have been references alleging that certain people are “working to undermine the athletic department” and assigning some nefarious intent. Let me take you back to the night of October 28, 2022 a glorious fall-weather weekend with Ohio State coming to town the next day.
As midnight approached on the 28th, I was with my mother, sisters, nieces, nephews and my own daughter vacuuming, hand-washing dozens of glasses and dishes, breaking down tables and putting away chairs and storing leftovers in the fridge in my mother’s house.
We were cleaning up after hosting a dinner and post-dinner party to connect the Penn State administration and Penn State Trustee leadership with important major donors with philanthropic interests that were both academic and athletic. All told, over seventy guests attended.
There was no catering service. Family and friends “staffed” the entire event. Sue Paterno cooked everything as she had done for decades after home football games to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Penn State.
The dinner was something I’d suggested to Sue Paterno to help our new President Neeli Bendapudi, her chief of Staff Michael Wade Smith and athletic director Pat Kraft meet a number of critically important alumni. Working through Penn State’s administration and development office we made it happen.
Among those donors were some who had not been on campus for a decade or more. I personally appealed to many of them to come back to the University to seize new opportunities with a new administration. Those donors got re-connected with the University we all love.
And when it was all said and done, we did not invoice Penn State for services or food or labor or anything else. The joint efforts pointed towards a future of collaboration and cooperation that some people previously had resisted.
So much for undermining Penn State with nefarious intent.
But I promised you some facts above as it relates to football so let’s get to it. The complaints about support for football financial support are not fair to either Pat Kraft or Sandy Barbour. They've funded football. Yes, no one ever gets everything they want, and coaches and agents excel at listing demands. That’s what they’re supposed to do.
And lest anyone on the Board take the credit or the blame for how you feel about the level of support for football understand that line-items like football budgets never come before the board. Those decisions are rightfully left to administrators as part of the total university budget that we vote on.
In my nearly six years on the board, our Board has never gotten into discussions where we tried to negotiate the budget of any specific team one way or the other in our deliberations. The same goes for how Deans of our Colleges decide to fund their academic programs.
But back to athletics and more specifically football. According to the latest available government-required disclosures Penn State was in the Top 5 Nationally in overall football budget spending, in total coaching salaries and recruiting budgets. And Penn State has already spent $80 million on Lasch Building upgrades.
And while I voted against the Lasch Building in 2021 it was because of a fiduciary responsibility that I had to the university. At that time I asked the administration for the maintenance backlog costs on Beaver Stadium. They said they did not know. We asked about renovations that would create new revenue to pay for facilities. There was no plan. And given what awaits us in borrowing costs for Beaver Stadium, we’d have been better off borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to fund those renovations first at the market rates two years ago. When I asked what plans they had for NIL they did not believe NIL would ever really happen because the NCAA expected Congress to act.
That vote was consistent with other votes. I voted against borrowing for the Palmer Art Museum and helped halt a proposed $14 million private elevator and President's suite renovation at Beaver Stadium. I guess we just thought $14 million should've gone to new bathrooms for paying ticketholders rather that a private elevator. Some of us also thought that money could help hold tuition down for our students. After all isn't that what Penn State is all about?
But at our core, Penn State is the world’s leading service-oriented University. To that end we’ll be celebrating the service of three Penn State alumni student-athletes next Thursday at the first annual Impact Awards Show. At that event we’ll also be recognizing the efforts of seven current female and male student-athletes including four current football players. It represents the best of what we do and it all flows from our founding land-grant mission.
So as this election begins in a few days, we thank you for your interest in the broad and important issues for Penn State. We thank you for being engaged with Penn State. Certainly, we’d love your vote, but above all we encourage you to vote on the things that will make Penn State the nation’s best land-grant university from our core academic and research mission to everything else that we do.