With climate leadership, safe and equitable campuses, transparent and inclusive governing structures, and fair workplaces, Penn State will better serve our students and maintain our University’s excellence in the coming decades.
"While an ambitious vision, we can rise to it—and guarantee our degrees mean not only that we attained a world-class education, but we are part of a community that values service, excellence, and success with honor."
Socially and environmentally responsible investing
Penn State’s $4.8 billion dollar endowment, invested in a diverse portfolio, supports an array of University scholarships and programs key to student success. In alignment with our peer institutions, we must invest transparently and responsibly in competitive, high-return assets that center social and environmental sustainability, securing the endowment’s long-term health and greater returns on investment, while making the University more attractive to donors. This includes developing an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Policy to guide the Penn State Investment Council’s decisions about the university’s endowment assets toward more sustainable and socially responsible investments.
Sustainable, carbon-neutral campuses
With 24 campuses across Pennsylvania, investments in sustainable campuses are investments in a sustainable Commonwealth. Existing practices, on the other hand, are costly: we are spending millions of dollars in waste “tipping fees,” too-slowly shifting toto fiscally responsible renewable and low-energy infrastructure, and inadequately supporting local farms and local agricultural economies. We have an opportunity to make climate-friendly and financially-smart decisions. We must create new procurement policies to partner with vendors to limit waste at the source and thus reduce campus operation costs. We must help Penn State achieve net-zero emissions by 2035. And we must improve our food procurement approaches by prioritizing locally-sourced, sustainably-produced food, including by codifying a quantitative goal based on the Real Food Standards and transparently tracking progress towards this goal.
Climate-focused education and research
Penn State has long been at the forefront of agricultural, energy, and engineering education and innovation. To remain leaders in our core competencies, we must embrace changes in these job markets and equip students with the skills required to succeed in the modern world. Our peer institutions are investing in climate research, developing climate institutes, and creating attractive, climate-focused faculty positions that pull away Penn State’s top scientists. Championing climate education and research enables us to remain competitive in student recruitment and student career outcome success. This includes establishing new degree programs and general education outcomes that center sustainability and climate science, strengthening our leadership in energy research and education with a focus on renewables, and eradicating fossil fuel influence on research.
Accountability for implementing equity task force and commission recommendations
Administrators have empaneled numerous task forces and commissions on anti-racism, sexual violence, policing, food and housing insecurity, and more, each recommending a host of changes to University policy. But it remains unclear which recommendations have been implemented and which have not — and why. We support yearly public, participatory reviews of all recommendations made by Penn State’s task forces and commissions and their implementation statuses.
Research-backed, community-based sexual violence prevention
While rates of sexual violence on campus remain high, activism by student groups like the Schreyer Gender Equity Coalition and Students Against Sexist Violence highlight the need for increased sexual violence prevention efforts. We must develop modern plans to confront sexual violence in our community, in part by reconvening the 2015 Task Force on Sexual Assault with expanded student representation and a greater focus on structural reform, community-based and restorative responses, and the intersectional nature of sexual violence. We must empower researchers to assess campus climate without administrative influence by participating in the national AAU Sexual Misconduct Survey and publicly releasing our full, de-identified survey data as well as creating a joint tenure-track faculty position in the Gender Equity Center, Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And we must support victim survivors by increasing funding for the Gender Equity Center to secure a larger space and expand services and programming.
Affordable education across campuses
Student distress over rising tuition, food, and housing expenses results from University policy choices. We believe in robust, data-driven, and structural solutions to guarantee an affordable education for all Penn State students. Mitigating financial strain on students and families requires sustained, concerted efforts: we must holistically and publicly review the University budget, particularly administrative spending and the endowment, to reallocate savings towards decreasing tuition and providing direct aid, particularly to lower-income students and families. In concert with more responsible management of the endowment and increased Board advocacy for more funding from Harrisburg, this will enable increased financial support for students.
Student costs of living are similarly high and increasing with inflation, leaving basic needs unfulfilled: 35% of students across campuses report food insecurity, and 17% of students at University Park report difficulty in securing housing. We must lower dining costs, expand housing and food scholarships, and procure more locally-sourced, nutritious options for on-campus sale to counter student food insecurity. To place downward market pressures on high off-campus rents, particularly at University Park, we must expand on-campus housing stock and reduce fees. And, to inform continuous and long-term efforts against food and housing insecurity, we must field regular cross-campus surveys on basic needs using USDA standardized questions.
Democratic workplaces for all employees
More than 30,000 faculty, staff, and student workers across the Commonwealth make Penn State possible. All deserve dignified, democratic workplaces. We support codifying a labor union recognition policy that protects employees’ right to organize and bargain without fear of administrative retaliation, interference, and intimidation.
$15 an hour campus minimum wage
Many students work on campus to afford attending Penn State. Per a 2019 survey on food insecurity, however, current wages are not enough: working students are more likely to be food insecure, and nearly half of those working full-time are food insecure. We support increasing the minimum hourly wage across campuses to $15 or the county living wage as estimated by MIT, whichever is higher, for all employees, and we support regular surveys of student employees to actively respond to concerns around working conditions and wages.
Equity and transparency in employment practices
Penn State must be a safe and transparent place to work to stay competitive in the hiring market, particularly with respect to faculty and graduate worker rights. To ward off growing national attacks on faculty employment, we support expanding transparency in promotional processes and protecting academic tenure. Further, amidst struggles to hire and retain diverse faculty across all colleges, we support fully adopting the call of the More Rivers to Cross reports, including a timetable to fund tenure-track lines for Black faculty, an external study of pay equity, and an overhaul of the affirmative action complaint process to better respond to concerns from Commonwealth campuses. Penn State must also adopt stringent policies against power-based discrimination and harassment for graduate workers and a balanced grievance process that permits third-party arbitration, developed in concert with graduate workers.
Transparency and democracy in University administration
Democratic oversight and transparency instill greater confidence in administrative decisions and leave our University stronger. Currently, nine trustees on the Board—six representing business and industry, and three appointed as at-large members—are selected through internal processes, while the Board retains 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, political parties, and PACs, as well as any PACs they may chair. And, to facilitate public accountability in searches for administrative officials including the President, the Board should 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. We believe that graduating seniors should be eligible to vote in alumni trustee elections, so that they can be immediately engaged in the development of our institution’s future. 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 an elected staff trustee. 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 the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan in creating an open records office and a robust procedure for members of the public to request records.
Transparency around internal surveys, for example, 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 can 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 (such as authentic 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.