Does Barry Fenchak ever have anything positive to say?
That's a great question. Allow me to answer.
This article has been prompted by a comment to another article I recently posted on the appointment of a new Penn State president. The full comment was:
"Do you EVER have anything positive or constructive so say, other than sardonically?"
I admit I had to laugh when I saw this, because I know my reputation as an outspoken (to be polite) critic of Penn State’s Board of Trustees and administration. But it’s an important question because it gets to the crux of the problem: Does Penn State need fans or do we need leaders?
By my nature, I tend to analyze every situation from the standpoint of “What can be done better?” That is partly due to my training and experience; including, as a Chemical Engineer, working in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. I would often be charged with analyzing a new process, and spending, literally, weeks reviewing the proposal with the mission to identify every possible “What If” that could go wrong. I then implemented strategies that would either avoid or mitigate any potential problems, many of which could be either very costly or even deadly. The worst thing one can do in a situation like that is say, “We’re good, it will all work out.”
How does that relate to the responsibilities of being a Penn State Trustee?
I believe that Penn State’s greatest resource is the thousands of avid supporters who are always willing to trumpet Penn State’s achievements. Those people and groups – the Penn State Alumni Association, alumni, students, etc, all serve an important and beneficial role. We are proud of Penn State and we want everyone to know about it.
But I also believe that the responsibilities of the Penn State Board of Trustees are significantly different. While there is nothing wrong with Trustees trumpeting Penn State’s virtues, their position requires them to be responsible stewards (or more technically, fiduciaries). Their job isn't to defend the University, it is to provide diligent stewardship over the University so that it does not need to be defended.
The duty of the Penn State Board of Trustees is to guide Penn State in such a way that others have something to righteously cheer for.
Here’s another way to look at it: it’s the difference between the fans at a football game rooting on the team through thick and thin, versus the coaching staff whose responsibility it is to constantly evaluate and work to improve the team’s performance. A good coach and staff will take a team from poor to mediocre, from mediocre to good, from good to great, and from great to the best, never stopping to say “We are as good as we can be, let’s stop now, congratulate ourselves, and celebrate”. Because that is the recipe for underachievement and failure.
It's easy to be a fan and cheer the team. It's a lot harder to be a coach and figure out what it takes to make a team great. There seem to be many Trustees who like to cheer, and not much else.
I can add nothing of value to the Board as another cheerleader. I want to coach.
What the Board lacks, and that we desperately need, is leadership, accountability, transparency, hard work, diligence, and honesty. That these traits were promised but not delivered by Trustees who wanted our votes saddens me because I see the devastating effects of the lack of leadership.
When you hear me criticize the Board, this is where I'm coming from. As a candidate for the Board you will hear me praise the efforts of faculty and staff, of students and others whose efforts do us all proud. Like most Penn Staters, I cannot be around THON without having a tear in my eye and a lot of Penn State pride in my heart. In my twenty years of teaching at Penn State, I was regularly impressed, and sometimes amazed, by what our students achieved. Every day, here in State College, I am surrounded by friends and neighbors who are doing wonderful things in their roles as university faculty, staff, and researchers.
But that is not enough. I will not blindly cheer policies and actions that I know are destructive to the governance of the university. I will also be presenting my ideas for how to stop Penn State's precipitous drop in every metric used to measure successful universities over the last ten years, plans I will bring to the table as an elected Trustee. That is what we all deserve, and should demand, from our Trustees - not just another voice leading a “We Are…” chant.
Lastly, I promise with my hand over my heart, to limit my speech and communications as a Trustee to that which I would only say in front of my hometown preacher (of course, my hometown preacher could tell a randy story from time to time, so I may have a little wiggle room). But I will not remain silent.
Do you have a question or comment you'd like to discuss with me? Please call me at (814) 470-0524, or email me at email@example.com. I will always reply.
Nominations for candidates to the Penn State Board of Trustees will run from January 15th - February 15th, 2022. I humbly request your nomination. Barry J Fenchak, ‘84 Engineering.