Penn State Board of Trustees alumni elections are coming to a close this week, with four candidates vying for three spots. Anyone who’s driven through State College in the last month has undoubtedly noticed the road signs and billboards and other campaign paraphernalia papering the town. It’s no secret Penn State has the most politicized trustee elections in the country thanks to the 2011 mess, so I wanted to take a moment to explain my three choices and urge you to vote before the deadline on Thursday.
For the uninitiated, here’s the short of the situation: Three incumbent trustees are running on a platform endorsed by PS4RS, an alumni activist group which formed in response to perceived (and in my opinion, actual) issues with Penn State governance following the Sandusky fallout. I consider myself much more sympathetic to the PS4RS cause then most current students and young alumni (I don’t claim to speak for either group, but I do interact with a good many people from each and think I have a pretty good pulse). PS4RS believes Joe Paterno should be honored, the Freeh report should be refuted, and Penn State’s large and disjointed board should be more accountable to its stakeholders. I fervently agree with all of those goals, as do the voting alumni. PS4RS has swept the last three elections by large margins, and, frankly, is likely to do so again this year.
The organization has turned off a large number of current and recent student leaders because of some of the attitudes of some its most vociferous members on social media. The organization has, somewhat justifiably, gotten a bad rap by the way some of its members conduct themselves on Twitter and in the comment section of news articles. The term “JoeBot” is not entirely unearned, if you only read the comments. Despite being in agreement with the PS4RS core mission, I am often a target of these attacks. I want to make it clear that I do not endorse this conduct. It is of great distress, for someone who agrees with the core mission, that this group has pinned itself in this corner with otherwise reasonable students and alumni.
Anyway, I’m not voting straight ticket. Here’s why.
PS4RS has accomplished one of its central goals in replacing every elected member of the Board of Trustees. I am glad they did. In the history books, it will say that every alumni-elected member of the November 2011 board was swiftly replaced for making a series of awful decisions — about Paterno’s undignified termination and other issues. The list of replaced trustees include one of Penn State’s greatest ambassadors in Jesse Arnelle and one of its most successful alumni in Joel Myers. I still look favorably on these two men and their body of work. Everyone makes mistakes. Nonetheless, replacing all nine is important for the historical record and how future historians will look back on the Penn State “scandal.” We should be playing the long game to correct the record at this point.
Nonetheless, I think it’s unhealthy for one organization to have a stranglehold on the election process. It’s why I used one of my votes on Dan Cocco, the 2008 THON Overall Chairperson and a voice for young alumni and students.
Cocco is maligned by PS4RS members because he ran on the Upward State ticket two years ago, which was a group created somewhat in response to PS4RS. The organization claimed to prioritize putting “students first” and wanted to move on entirely from the scandal fallout.
There’s a misconception among some of PS4RS’s opponents (and propagated by Upward State) that trustees should have “priorities” or that the Board is driven by prioritization. With all due respect, that is simply not how the Board works. Ensuring students have the lowest tuition possible is not in conflict with honoring Joe Paterno. Welcoming the student voice in university decision making processes is not in conflict with refuting the Freeh report. Striving to correct the record about the scandal does not mean one can not care just as much about the every day functioning of the university. Although the Paterno stuff makes the news, anyone who has actually followed any Trustee meetings over the last several years understands this concept. this Despite his former Upward State affiliation, I believe that Cocco knows this.
A vote for Dan is a vote for honoring Paterno, giving young alumni and students a voice, ensuring responsible budget management, and opening the doors for other non-PS4RS affiliated alumni to run. I view this as a positive thing. Dan understands a trustee can walk and chew gum at the same time — it’s not all or nothing, as some PS4RS critics have incorrectly asserted. Trustees are not politicians, and any talk about prioritizing initiatives is a complete misunderstanding of how the Board of Trustees works. I don’t support all of what PS4RS trustees have done — I don’t agree 100% with any one trustee, nor will I with Dan — but let’s just end that misconception about the nature of trusteeship.
There are members of the Board that simply serve as rubber stamps for the Board’s Executive Committee. No matter how much I like Dan personally, if I thought he was going to be one of those trustees, I would not have voted for him. Young Penn Staters have an incredible opportunity to elect someone who will speak for them, while also applying a responsible amount of pressure on important issues. He’s an exciting candidate worthy of our support.
I also voted for incumbents Bill Oldsey and Barbara Doran, and fully endorse their candidacies. Anyone who claims that PS4RS trustees only care about the Paterno issue need not look further than Bill Oldsey to realize they are wrong. Despite having a reputation for being a bit of a hell raiser, I have not found another trustee (aside from the student trustees) who are more welcoming to the student voice than Oldsey. He is a constant watchdog on the finance committee for making sure Penn State’s budget is as responsible it can be. He has a reputation as being a bit of a firebrand, but one would be hard-pressed to find a trustee who is more engaged with all of the issues.
Doran is another trustee who cares about much more than what PS4RS gets labeled with by its critics. Her input on the various committees has always been measured, valuable, and respectful. As one of the few women on the Board, she has a tough job, but she’s always handled it with grace. I should note that the other candidate, Ted Brown, has always been incredibly pleasant and welcoming to me, but his platform was, in my opinion, the weakest of the group.
A team of Cocco, Oldsey, and Doran would be a win for Penn State, and in particular, Penn State students. If you are a Penn State alumnus, and you haven’t yet voted, PLEASE REQUEST A BALLOT ON THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES WEBSITE BY WEDNESDAY TO HAVE YOUR VOTE COUNTED BY THURSDAY.