Top 5 Priorities for Penn State’s New President
There's a lot that needs to be fixed on Dr Bendapudi’s first day on the job.
One day in the next few months, recently hired Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi will enter her new office in Old Main and see a desk (metaphorically) piled high with issues.
From my point of view, which is university governance, her predecessor has left Penn State in a worse condition than he found it—skyrocketing endowment management fees, a drop from third to ninth overall in the Big10 by US News & World Reports, and a last place finish in the Value ranking by the same publication.
Let’s look at the five most pressing issues on President Bendapudi’s desk:
#5: Strengthen Penn State’s academic and research resources in the most high-demand fields.
Eight years ago, at the same time Penn State President Eric Barron was taking office, Purdue University was seating a new President, Mitch Daniels. Daniels made it clear it was a high priority to beef up Purdue’s resources in the most critical fields of Academia, especially the STEM fields, including enhancing the quality and quantity of faculty. He did just that, and eight years later Purdue has seen the most dramatic rise in rankings among Big Ten universities. Conversely, Penn State has seen the most dramatic drop. Putting in maximum effort to enhance Penn State’s excellence in high-demand fields will be critical in reversing this trend.
#4: Straighten out Penn State’s Intercollegiate Athletics situation.
Under Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, Penn State Athletics has experienced a stunning decline in on-field competitiveness, a decline in academic achievement, and is in a precarious financial position (according to presentations by the Athletics Department at Board of Trustees presentations). Once proudly proclaimed as financially independent, Athletics has recently relied on heavy borrowing from the University —and Sandy Barbour has another $500 million of building projects on her Master Plan with no funds to pay for them. Will Penn State take on these massive debts for Athletics? Add in a $85 million albatross that the out-going administration has saddled her with, and it all adds up to a huge headache for Dr Bendapudi.
#3: Penn State’s debt load, driven by large capital spending expenses.
Under President Eric Barron, Penn State’s long-term debt has quadrupled, from under $1 billion to nearly $3.5 billion. Much of this debt has been incurred to undertake capital spending projects, many of which are of questionable importance (and of curious and excessive costs). President Bendapudi needs to rein in these expenditures and figure out how to pay off the mounting debt, which cost the University over $100 million per year in interest payments alone. Rising interest rates in the future—which are just about a certainty—will only exacerbate the problem.
#2: Balance priorities between faculty and senior administration staffing.
Penn State was recently cited as the number one university in diverting tuition payment dollars to underwrite administrative, rather than educational, expenses. In order to attract and retain the highest quality faculty, Dr Bendapudi will need to decide whether to continue to direct more resources towards underwriting senior administrative staff salaries or shift Penn State’s spending back towards educational and research faculty.
#1: Control the cost of tuition.
Despite a recent slow-down in the rate of tuition increases, Penn State remains the most expensive public school in the Big Ten. The net cost for an in-state student to earn a Penn State degree is more than double the cost at her Big Ten peers. This is just one of the factors that has catalyzed Penn State’s dramatic drop in rankings among Big Ten universities under President Eric Barron, from 3rd in the Big Ten conference to 9th.
It is clear that President Bendapudi has a very challenging job ahead of her. Success will require not only her best efforts, but also the assistance of an engaged Board of Trustees. As a trustee, I look forward to working with her to define Penn State’s critical missions and implement sound strategies to rejuvenate Penn State. Our goal must be to make Penn State #1 in the complex world of twenty-first century higher education.
— I’m Barry Fenchak, and I need your help.
To be listed on the April 2022 Penn State Alumni Trustee ballot, I need 250 nominations from Penn State alumni.
Nominations will run January 15th to February 25th. On January 15th alumni will receive nominating ballots by email. Please nominate me, Barry J Fenchak, 1984 Engineering. If you are expecting a nomination ballot email and don’t receive one, please click here or call the Penn State Trustee office at (814) 865-2521.
I appreciate your support.