Equipped with a diverse group of current and former university leaders and a forward thinking, students first attitude, a new Penn State nonprofit hopes to make an immediate impact in the upcoming Board of Trustees election. Dubbing itself as “the positive vote for Penn State’s future,” a group called Upward State launched today with the goal of changing the conversation about Penn State reform.
The organization — led by three past presidents of the Penn State Alumni Association, two current students, and other stakeholders — rolled out its website late last night along with an introductory video. The group also endorsed three candidates in the 32-person field for the upcoming Board of Trustees election: Dan Cocco (’08), Julie Harris McHugh (’86), and Matt Schuyler (’87).
Although not explicitly stated, the sense I get from Upward State’s initial release is that it is a form of progressive opposition to the undoubtedly loud Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship group, which is focused on reforming the Board of Trustees in the spirit of correcting perceived past injustices. While one of PS4RS’s catchphrases has become “We will not move on,” it seems like Upward State is focused on doing just that.
“Upward State and our three endorsed candidates all agree this year’s election must focus on Penn State’s future – not our immediate past,” said Jim Carnes, past president of the Penn State Alumni Association. “Like other public universities, Penn State operates in a challenging environment of rising costs, shrinking state support and competitive ways to deliver education online. As the university continues to deal with the after-effects of the 2011 crisis, it is so important our trustees keep their eye on the ball – and that is ensuring students continue to have access to a world-class education from Penn State, the school we all love.”
The new group is led by an eight-person steering committee, made up of students and alumni with a wide range of professional and personal experiences. Members include:
- Jim Carnes ’61, president of the Alumni Association from 1999-2001, former President and CEO of the Sarnoff Corporation.
- Tom Hollander ’58, president of the Alumni Association from 1995-1997, longtime Allegheny County lawyer.
- Dr. David Han ’88 ’06G, president of the Alumni Association from 2007-2009, Vice Chair of the Department of Surgery at Penn State College of Medicine and Director of the Residency Training Program in General Surgery at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
- Tara Merry ’12G, Global Marketing Leader for GE’s Inspection Technologies’ business
- Maggie Harding ’14 (expected), women’s volleyball co-captain, two-time National Champion, Schreyer Honors scholar
- Jordan Harris ’14 (expected), Chairman of the Penn State College Republicans.
- Tracy Shillinger Riegel ’85, Chair of the Penn State Parents Council, mother of two current students.
- Rick Riegel ’85, Corporate Vice President at Liquent Inc., serves on the Penn State Career Services Advisory Board, father of two current students, notable Board of Trustees public commenter.
The group is operating under a four-pillar platform, presented verbatim below.
Make Penn State More Affordable and Accessible
- Keep tuition affordable by controlling costs
- Advocating for strong state support
- Build the endowment to increase scholarship aid
Strengthen Penn State’s Academic Excellence
- Recruit and retain outstanding students and faculty members
- Expand learning experiences for students both in and out of the classroom
- Continue to raise Penn State’s stature as a leading research University
Advance Penn State’s Legacy of Excellence
- Demand the highest standards of conduct in all aspects of university life
- Actively promote the outstanding achievements of students and faculty
- Acknowledge Joe Paterno’s significant role in building Penn State’s legacy of academic and athletic excellence
Make Penn State’s Board of Trustees a National Model
- Increase transparency in the Board’s deliberations as well as its decisions
- Establish a permanent student trustee position elected by students (Author’s note: already happened)
“This upcoming election of alumni trustees is absolutely critical to Penn State’s future, and Upward State is excited to support three candidates whom we believe will put students like me first by fighting for things such as more scholarship aid, lower tuition, and recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty,” Harding said.
Whether Upward State can have an immediate impact is yet to be seen. There is certainly some level of opposition to PS4RS in the Penn State community, which, fairly or unfairly, is defined in the public at large by its most vocal and radical members. Despite PS4RS’s incredible success at the ballot box, some have accused the group of having misplaced priorities or being overly political. There is unquestionably room for a reform group, however big or small, for those who feel alienated by PS4RS but agree that changes need to be made at Penn State.
“We know there is a significant portion of the alumni base that is forward thinking and wants a student-centered message,” Harris said. “We encourage them to join us.”
Upward State will officially announce its platform at press conferences in Harrisburg and State College today. Check back later tonight for an update from the State College event.