Discover more from Barry Fenchak For Penn State Trustee
How I will fix Penn State.
I’ve been a harsh critic of the Penn State Board of Trustees. Here is why you should vote for me to join them.
I started paying attention to the Penn State Board of Trustees when it was a sleepy boys club, well before the Sandusky scandal exploded. As an adjunct professor of finance at University Park, I used the Board of Trustees as a case study of how a governance board should not operate. A key point was how the dysfunctional set-up of the Board would likely fail when (not if) Penn State faced a true crisis.
No one anticipated the specific type of crisis that rocked Penn State in November, 2011. But when it did, it blew the doors of Old Main wide open. The University was thrown into turmoil, pressures mounted, and the road ahead became extremely unclear. Harsh light was thrown on the Board and their panicked actions made everything worse.
Penn State alumni, the largest stakeholder group, openly revolted. Meetings that before had only merited a couple of paragraphs in the local papers were now packed with news cameras and outraged people demanding to know what happened, why it happened, and who was responsible. Trustees who had held their seats for decades began to quit in droves, complaining bitterly that they had no idea what was going on and resented being scapegoated.
The biggest question being asked was: What was being done to improve things? The answer turned out to be: Not much.
Instead of responding with a determination to improve University governance, which was directly at fault, the Trustee leadership became more dysfunctional, opaque, and insular. The result? Tuition remains the highest in the Big10. Our operating budget is bloated with obscene amounts of waste. Our capital spending is completely out of focus. Meanwhile, Penn State’s academic standing has plummeted relative to its Big10 peers. Worst of all, they have quadrupled Penn State’s long-term debt to nearly $3.5 billion, which will burden students for decades to come.
Can one Trustee have any hope of changing this? I believe I can. Here’s how:
I will vote No to any proposal that is not in the best interests of the University, which means I will vote No quite often. And I won’t be afraid to be the lone No vote if I think the proposal is not congruent with responsible governance.
Before I vote No, I will work to educate the other Trustees on better options. Budgets that are financed with high tuition? How about we discuss some strategic cuts in administrative expenses before we send out another round of tuition bills. More dormitories that need to be renovated at the cost of +$200,000 per room? Let’s get a construction benchmark and see where this estimate falls.
I will put forth my own list of proposals, developed through years of observation and analysis:
Proper management of the Penn State endowment, with sufficient savings to reduce tuition costs by at least 10%.
Budgetary control that will yield sufficient savings to reduce tuition by at least 5% per year.
Recognize Penn State’s academic decline and support the faculty as they work to restore its prominence.
Lastly, I will be an ally of President Bendapudi. She’s a smart, accomplished leader who, I believe, will acknowledge the challenges Penn State faces. She has an excellent opportunity before her to make her mark by improving what she inherits, and I expect she is chomping at the bit to get to work.
Now you, the alumni voters, have a choice to make. Three names on the ballot have had their seats since 2013. These incumbents have a strong record, with rare exceptions, of voting for every bad idea they have been presented with. We only hear from them when they are up for re-election. Why are they asking for three more years to fix the things they broke? Hold them accountable.
Another three candidates are running as a group sponsored by the progressive non-profit The Boarding School, Inc. I have never seen them at any Board meetings, and their website hasn’t been updated in some time. Links to their priorities are “coming soon”. What are their plans to reduce tuition, and what strategies do they have to improve Penn State’s academic standing? Hold them accountable.
As a Trustee, I promise that you can hold me accountable. I will consistently inject reasonable analysis into the development of operating and capital budgets. I will demonstrate responsible stewardship of Penn State’s resources. I will keep my focus on the mission of Penn State to provide quality and affordable education, and to conduct meaningful and beneficial research.
I am not a naïve candidate; I’ve been there, and I know this will be a challenging job. I will not be caught off-guard seeing Board dysfunction for the first time. I know that one voice will make a positive impact. But mine will be more than one voice, because I will bring the voices of those of you who are most invested—the faculty, students, and alumni—into that boardroom. Give me a vote on the Board.
I hope I have convinced you that one Trustee can make a difference. I humbly ask for your vote, and promise to do my utmost to promote responsible governance at Penn State. For a change.
Ballots will be emailed beginning April 10th, 2022, to Penn State alumni registered to vote. Click here to register, or if voting has already begun to request a ballot. The election finishes May 5th.