One Last Election Blog: Protecting PSU's Board from Dangerous National Trends
Editor's Note: Penn State's Alumni Trustee Election ends Thursday May 4th. If you want to vote and have not received a ballot--check your spam folder for an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to request your ballot.
We're just two days from the May 4th 9 a.m. EDT voting deadline for Penn State's Alumni Trustee Election. With that being the case, it's time for one last blog. This one is designed to speak beyond this election and into the broader future and direction of board governance here at Penn State.
In recent weeks I've spoken with people here and at other national universities. All expressed shared concerns about threats to independent university board governance. Freedom of expression and freedom of curriculum are under threat. Presidents are being pressured. More and more board members are being selected with their political affiliation as a consideration. They're trying to create quasi-legislative boards.
The pandemic really brought this into the open. Trustees here were inundated with messages from across the spectrum to overrule the administration to enact regulations one way or another. While the President does report to the Board, it is misguided to believe that we should be interfering in the day-to-day operations of Penn State. Now the focus is shifting to other issues.
Just over a week ago, The New York Times reported on the political tensions impacting the Board of Visitors at The University of Virginia as part of a national trend. Much of the conflict at UVA and elsewhere is coming from extremes trying to influence curriculum and advance narrow political agendas.
Ironically, the University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson who wrote to British Historian William Roscoe describing the goal of his new university.
“For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
That should be the bedrock foundation of every university in this country. Any attempt by university boards to destabilize that foundation must be turned back. No matter where you look, whether it is the states of Florida, Texas, Virginia, Cailfornia or even here at Penn State we're seeing a troubling trend in the political pressures on university boards.
We've reached a time where outside influences are trying to bring the "macro-political" battles and culture wars to board governance. Whether the influences come from the far right or far left it does not matter. Penn State's Board of Trustees is a fiduciary board not a legislative body. We should not be engaged in micromanagement or pressuring our President in an attempt to wage "macro-political" battles in our stewardship of this educational institution.
This election at Penn State is not immune to those influences. At least one outside group is promoting a platform for our board to take actions outside the defined roles of our charter and by-laws. Their goal is to bring the political fights of Washington or Harrisburg at our university. This election has even featured personal attacks and coordinated smear campaigns that are beneath the dignity of Penn State.
At a time when our board is more cohesive and collaborative than it has been in over twelve years, I can make you a promise should we be re-elected. We will defend this board from the agenda-driven outside political battles that have no place in our role as a fiduciary board.
We cannot change what is happening nationally. But what we will do, is to do what is right for Penn State. We will remain a fiduciary board. And we will ensure the freedom of our President, administration, faculty, staff and students to do their best for Penn State and to follow truth wherever it may lead. By doing that we will emerge as an example of responsible and rational governance to the rest of the nation.