If UPUA taught me anything this year, it’s that the leader of an organization doesn’t always define the organization.
It’s no secret that the UPUA’s 6th Assembly had its fair share of struggles. Perhaps it was fitting that during the Assembly’s final meeting Wednesday night, the last resolution it passed was a support bill directed at the Borough Council — the same type of meaningless advocacy that seemed to hold UPUA back all year from working towards substantial initiatives.
The inefficiencies of our student government have been well documented on this website, particularly by me, over the past few months. I sat in the back of the room every Wednesday and watched as our student leaders ran through their $140,000 budget and passed inconsequential resolutions that did very little for the student body.
Conventional wisdom would have you believe that UPUA’s fifth President, (0r sixth, if you’re a hipster) T.J. Bard, is primarily responsible for the immense amount of waste that defined this student government. And there’s at least some truth to that.
His passive stance towards legislation became increasingly frustrating as the year went on. As Programming Chair Kyle Lorenz — President Bard’s Beta Theta Pi brother and personal friend — stood up and convinced the Assembly to spend $3,036.28 on UPUA cups, sunglasses, and pens, Bard stood idly by and refused to use his veto power, even though the student body stood vehemently in opposition to the legislation. Bard even said he was personally opposed to it.
He watched as his Vice President Courtney Lennartz waited until the last minute, and booked $1,300 plane tickets to Illinois for the Association of Big Ten Students Conference — an egregious act of mismanagement that should’ve been stopped. Certainly, President Bard was at least implicit in many of the myriad failures of UPUA this past year.
But that’s not to say that the Assembly’s work during his Presidency was all bad. The highly touted off-campus meal plan that Bard campaigned on last spring — although extremely watered down — is going to be unveiled next fall. The Princeton Review legislation, which helps subsidize costs for graduate school exam prep, has been a success by all accounts. And co-introducing the 6-Points for Change was one of the crowning moments of his presidency. Only time will tell how much of it will actually come to fruition.
But when I look back at T.J. Bard, I’ll think of someone who stood up for the student body at a time when we needed it the most. The lack of substantive legislation under his administration is something that will always be in the back of my mind, but it’s not how I’ll remember him. After all, there is something to be said for the unequivocal trust Bard put in his Assembly to make the right decisions. One could easily frame his passiveness as faith, or confidence.
No, I’ll remember T.J. Bard as a true leader — a larger-than-life figure who represented all of us to the world as it caved in on Penn State.
There’s a reason Bard won by over 19 percentage points in last year’s election, and there’s a reason Bard would win in a landslide if he decided to run for re-election this year. Even though UPUA failed us time after time, we still trusted Bard.
In the midst of the worst chapter of Penn State history, I never once doubted that Bard would be there to portray us students to the nation with his trademark class and humility. None of us did. We came to expect more from our student body president than our university president.
That type of stability, during a year marked by upheaval, is a benefit that can not be understated. While some students embarrassed our University on national television, or saw the situation as something from which they could personally benefit, Bard never wavered in his commitment to all of us — the commitment to selflessly stand up for the interests of all 44,000 students.
He spoke on the steps of Old Main after the worst day in Penn State history and reassured us of our values. He went in front of the camera and told the world our story — the story that so desperately needed to be told instead of the one that ESPN and the Wall Street Journal propagated. He stood up in defense of Joe Paterno, not because it was politically expedient, but because the student body demanded it.
T.J. Bard stayed true to our core principles in a year where so many of our other leaders did not. I’m probably romanticizing the role of UPUA President to those of us inside of the Penn State bubble, but to the media — and the rest of the world — he WAS us.
The next UPUA President — be it Courtney Lennartz, Evan Ponter, or Maggie Quinn — will have enormous shoes to fill. With the upcoming Jerry Sandusky trial and the Louis Freeh report due within the next year, I can promise you this — there will be chaos in our Happy Valley again, and the Student Body President will once again be thrust into the national spotlight.
And I know that when it happens, I’ll miss T.J.
You did make a difference, Mr. President.