It's time to change the way that Penn State's leadership governs the University. We must create structures and processes that enable community participation in decision-making.
Transparency and democracy in University administration
We’re stronger with community oversight and transparency instills greater confidence in administrative decisions. Currently, nine trustees on the Board—six representing business and industry, and three appointed as at-large members—are selected internally behind closed doors, while the Board retains the discretion to reject faculty and student trustees duly nominated to their positions. The Board must overhaul selection processes to solicit and consider nominations from the University community and publicly justify all internal appointments to Board seats. We must expand conflict of interest disclosures for all trustees nominated by the Governor to include contributions to the Governor, state senators, and political parties, as well as any political actions committees they may chair. And, to facilitate public accountability in searches for administrative officials including the President, the Board must be required to publicly announce the top three finalists, as many other peer institutions do, in advance of a final selection to enable community vetting.
To increase accountability and democratic voice on the Board, we believe the Board must empanel an external elections committee to facilitate alumni trustee elections, rather than selecting current trustees who serve concurrently with incumbents, with an eye toward substantially increasing voter turnout and reducing barriers to participation. While faculty and students have one seat each, we support calling on the Governor to appoint an additional student trustee, in line with decades-long tradition, and we believe the Board must expand to include a staff trustee, elected by staff. And, to boldly ensure that the University community is appropriately represented on the Board, we believe in a more ambitious diversity goal for the Board than the existing benchmark of 50% non-white and/or non-male trustees by 2025: the Board should seek to ensure that 50% of its membership are women and non-binary and 35% are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, while setting goals to increase representation with respect to Commonwealth campuses, disability, LGBTQ+ identity, and age in the next decade.
Open records and data policies
After lobbying for an exemption to Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law in 2008, Penn State, including its administration and police department, is not obligated to respond to public requests for records. We believe Penn State’s opacity disadvantages our community’s capacity to hold the institution accountable and innovate new policy. Penn State must lead on institutional transparency, whether or not it is required by state law, and join other public Big Ten institutions like Illinois and Michigan in creating an open records office and a robust procedure for members of the public to request records.
Transparency around internal surveys increases confidence in the results and accountability for the University to act in their wake. Surveys on University community members, such as the Community Survey and Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, should be designed with target populations, community organizations, survey methodology experts, and field scholars (e.g. faculty who study sexual violence). To encourage community analysis and feedback, we must implement an open data policy for all large-scale institutional assessments which mandates the public release of full, de-identified survey data.
Penn State is a community rich with an extraordinary and diverse set of experts, advocates, researchers, and thinkers, and all of us are ready to work for a better institution. Facilitated by administrative transparency, we must build a better Penn State through collaboration and deliberation, modeling the same problem-solving strategies graduates will need in their communities for decades to come. Administrators and trustees must proactively seek community voices to collaboratively design policy, programming, and investment plans through regular events (like true, not-for-show town halls) and institutionalized forums in which students, faculty, staff, and community organizations have mechanisms to provide feedback to Penn State’s leadership and Penn State’s leadership has a responsibility to respond in earnest.