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Trustees Talk Relationship With Local Government, Reaction To New Logo

By: Michael Martin Garrett

You hear a lot about the town-gown relationship between Penn State and the local community, but the university wants to do more to strengthen that connection.

Margaret Gray, director of the newly-created office of local government and community relations, gave her first update to the Penn State Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development, and Community Relations on Thursday.

Even though her office was only established back in February, Gray says she’s already identified some of the major issues that Penn State needs to be aware of.

Regardless of whether Gray talks to one of the various local governing bodies, businesses organizations, or community leadership groups, she keeps hearing about the impact of the growth of Penn State and it student body and how this affects safety, nearby communities, and the vitality of downtown State College and the Centre Region.

One challenge Penn State faced when trying to address this challenge is that almost every segment of the university interacted with the surrounding community in some way, but there was no centralized communication or direction. Gray hopes her new office can help Penn State present a more unified message and engage with the local community in a more meaningful way.

“We’re entering a whole new phase of town-gown relations,” Penn State president Eric Barron said. “This isn’t just about the degree to which we’re promoting economic development, but the degree to which we’re paying attention to the community around us.”

But while relationships between local government seem to be improving, Penn State is still facing significant challenges with the state and federal governments.

Penn State Vice President of Government Affairs Michael DiRaimo said that budget stalemates in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. are putting the university in a difficult position. The federal budget sequestration, and possible government shutdown in October, is especially troubling.

“That has a direct and negative impact on Penn State’s ability to draw down federal funds for research and for the government to make investments in research the nation needs that Penn State provides,” DiRaimo said.

DiRaimo also noted that issues of campus sexual assault and the cost of higher education are increasingly entering the national spotlight as the presidential race heats up. Although Penn State has taken steps to address both of these, DiRaimo advised that these issues will continue to be important for the foreseeable future.

The committee also heard updates on the university’s strategic communications goal for the coming year, where the committee briefly discussed the negative reactions from alumni to the new Nittany Lion logo.

President Barron said the reactions reminded him of his time at Florida State University, when their Seminoles logo was updated to have teeth and alumni accused university administration of “ruining our history.”

“You see this with every change of logo with every institution,” Barron said. “…Thirty years from now, people will be furious when this one gets changed.”

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