Monday, March 26, 2012


Should PSU become a private University? It is an idea that I would not dismiss out of hand. Both Cornell and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are land grant institutions that have gone private. Although I hold degrees from two land grant institutions, PSU and Rutgers [the oldest school to hold land grant status] our land grant status does not preclude the possibility of going private.

The state funds less than 6% of the Universities overall budget yet the Governor controls almost 1/3 of our Board of Trustees, going private would free up those seats for elected alumni members. See my post on the makeup of the Board.

There are concerns: How would going private affect our Commonwealth Campuses? How would we be able to maintain the Penn State Agricultural County Cooperative Extension Programs? These are two issues that come immediately to mind, I am sure there are many others.

A mistake all boards commonly make is to believe that they must solve all problems among the board members. Being in a University settling we are blessed with being surrounded by great minds, both from within our faculty and student body and throughout our Alumni. When there are difficult problems to solve or issues to explore, I am in favor of creating an ad hoc "Task Force" chaired by a Board member but composed of board members, facility and alumni to explore issues and help solve problems.

Wisdom does not begin and end with those individuals fortunate enough to be seated on the Board of Trustees.


  1. Nikol, some interesting thoughts from your father on going private. My problem with this is exactly the problem that your father cites later in his blog-- that the Board is dysfunctional (actually, his point is that the Executive Committee makes the decisions, but I am paraphrasing).

    Perhaps an ideal solution would be to fix the current Board by changing the outmoded structure, and then, independently, consider the public-private question. They are two very different issues, which happen to intersect heavily.

    There is another reason I like considering these separately. The sins of the current group of Corbett appointees, half-asleep 1950s athletes, their groupies, and their illegitimate unvetted leader are too easily swept under the carpet in one motion. The ultimate root cause of our governance problems is NOT that the state has too many appointed seats (I'll agree that's a close second). It is that the individuals occupying these seats are not qualified to run a major university regardless of their political patron. We are to blame for the alumni among that group, and that little piece is getting fixed soon as you can see.

    If we go private before we clean up the toxic waste on today's Board, we will have locked in the problem for all time. We should fix the governance by changing rules and sweeping out the trash while PSU is still public, and then it's a great debate. Good luck to your father.

    --Chris G

    1. I do not disagree with your comments about priority; I am simply trying to respond to the various issues that have been raised so voters have an idea where I stand. The issues are not being raised in some order old priority.

      If, for example, the university would decide to go private I would not be in favor of using this as a reason for not being transparent. The only way I would support the university going private, if all other issues were resolved, would be with an unbreakable commitment to transparency.