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Bryce Jordan Led Penn State Into National Prominence

Bryce Jordan led Penn State as its president from 1983 to 1990, and, when looking around campus and downtown, his significance in the university’s history is obvious thanks to the numerous buildings that bear his name. The Bryce Jordan Center and Bryce Jordan Tower are likely the two most well-known of said buildings. But aside from knowing he has buildings named after him, many students do not know of the impact Jordan had on the university, propelling Penn State to its current status as one of the most prestigious universities in the nation in the seven short years he was here. Jordan passed away on April 12 at the age of 91, and it’s important to recognize the important impacts he had on the university while he served as president.

One of the most important and recognizable impacts he had on athletics and academics as Penn State’s president was accepting an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference in 1990, making Penn State the eleventh member of the conference. At the time of acceptance, Jordan believed that the important academic and athletic implications of joining many elite higher education institutions could make Penn State one of those elite institutions. A conference with roots stretching back to 1895, the Big Ten was happy to place Penn State in the ranks of other higher education institutions such as Michigan, Purdue, and Northwestern.

Athletically, especially in football, Penn State excelled in the Big Ten. Penn State, under Head Coach and recently named best Penn State thing champion Joe Paterno, had tremendous success in the difficult conference, including three Big Ten Championships, an undefeated season in 1994, and a bowl record of 10-4 from the time the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993 until 2010. Since then, Penn State athletics has continued its success with Big Ten Championships and national championships across a wide range sports.

While athletics were important for Jordan and the Penn State community, one of the major reasons he wanted to be a part of the Big Ten Conference was because all the universities in the conference boasted rankings as top-tier research institutions with large amounts of funding for their research. At the time, Pennsylvania didn’t fund colleges and universities nearly as much as they do today (assuming, of course, the state government does actually fund universities). President Jordan fought the state government for the lack of funding Penn State and other universities in Pennsylvania were receiving from Harrisburg. He ultimately persuaded the state to give more money to Penn State and other colleges, and then focused on his next main project: developing Penn State into a top-tier research institution.

While research was being conducted at Penn State, it was nowhere near the level being done at schools like Ohio State, Stanford, or North Carolina. Jordan wanted that to change, so he proposed a 130-acre plot of land dedicated solely to research. The proposed research park was modeled after similar research parks at Stanford and North Carolina, and it was named Innovation Park. With the initiation of Innovation Park, and with other opportunities brought about from an increase in state funding and private donations, Penn State doubled its research expenditures under President Jordan. Penn State was later deemed an R1 research institution, the highest research award, by the Carnegie Foundation. Today, through the efforts put forth by President Bryce Jordan, Penn State is one of the most prestigious research institutions in the nation.

President Jordan didn’t stop at research, academics, and athletics in his presidency though. Jordan was adamant about an increase in funding to go toward scholarships and endowment positions at the university. Penn State started its first major funding campaign, Campaign for Penn State, in 1986. Jordan set an initial goal of the campaign at $200 million, but he raised it to $300 million later after donations started pouring in. Proceeds from the campaign went to scholarships and endowment positions at Penn State. The campaign raised a total of $352 million.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Jordan’s presidency, though, was the racial tension at Penn State. Jordan focused heavily on increasing the diversity on campus and across commonwealth campuses. He created the Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity (CORED) in 1989, which served as an advisory board to the president and told the president any issues relating to diversity on campus. It also provided a resource for students and staff to help with any of these issues. CORED still exists today, and plays a major role in increasing diversity on campus.

Through all the efforts put forth by President Jordan, a multi-purpose athletic center opened on campus in 1995 and was dedicated to the late president, the Bryce Jordan Center. Also on East Beaver Avenue, the apartment building Bryce Jordan Tower serves as another tribute to the late president. Although the fourteenth president of Penn State only served for seven years, his dedication to the university can be seen every day. He was a true inspiration for everybody at Penn State.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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