You are currently viewing My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting February 16, 2024

My comments from the Penn State Board of Trustees Meeting February 16, 2024

  • Post last modified:February 19, 2024

Tl;dr: “We need to not make unwise decisions.”

The Penn State Board of Trustees met Thursday and Friday, February 15th – 16th, 2024 at the Hintz Family Alumni Center at University Park campus.  According to the Board Secretary, all trustees except Naren Gursahaney and Russell Redding were in attendance.

Prior to Friday’s full Board meeting, on Thursday there were public meetings of the Audit Committee, Finance Committee, and the Compensation Subcommittee. There were eight voting items on the Friday public meeting agenda, and several other items of note. Read the full published agendas and find links to supporting materials, click here. The video of the meeting is available here, and I urge you to watch it in its entirety.

As a service to alumni and the public who were unable to access the live broadcast of the meeting, the following is an excerpt of the comments I prepared and the vote results for each agenda item.

The first few items at the meeting were housekeeping items; approval of the previous meetings minutes, setting the dates for next year’s Board meetings, and a name change for the University Park Airport to State College Airport (Penn State has an ownership stake).  These items were all approved unanimously.

Friday, February 16, 2024 public meeting of the full Board

  • Action Item 1: Proposal to approve of compensation increase for Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi

This proposal increases Penn State presidential compensation by approximately $200,000 per year, and transitions it to a five year evergreen contract. With this raise, President Bendapudi becomes the highest paid* Big10 college president and in the top five of all public US universities.

My public comment:

“Taking stock of the environment we are currently in with regard to presidential compensation: I think everyone in higher education knows that overall market forces have driven the expected compensation of university presidents to high levels

“We also know that our current presidential compensation, among all 16 public universities in the Big Ten, Penn State’s presidential compensation is the second highest of those 16.  We certainly are not now, nor have we been in recent years, stingy with regard to presidential compensation.  And I don’t think we should be.

“We also know that Penn State faces significant and systemic budgetary and fiscal issues – along with growing concern among many Penn State stakeholders regarding their impacts of that situation.

“I can’t count how many times I have been approached by Penn State stakeholders over the last couple of years who have asked me “What does Penn State need to do to get into a better financial situation?”

“Where we are, fiscally or with any other aspect of importance to the University is, of course, the culmination of the impact of all of the decisions we make every day.

“Now, we can look at this proposal and we can: tell ourselves that the amount of money involved is insignificant, no more than rounding error in a $8 billion budget; or we can try to convince ourselves that this is somehow a necessary step to achieving greatness for Penn State. Or any number of other justifications. But I don’t really think any of those are particularly compelling or convincing.

“Or, we could do something that I think is more in line with the response I would give to somebody who asks me ‘What do we need to do to get into a better financial situation?’ And that is:

“First and foremost, we need to not make unwise decisions. 

“I think that given the environment we are currently in – with even tougher fiscal decisions waiting down the road – The disconcert among many of our constituents and elements of the Penn State community – that this would be, in total, perceived as somewhat tone-deaf, and an unwise decision and action.  And, therefore, I simply don’t think we should do it.”

After my comments there was no conversation or deliberation, a vote was taken to approve of the compensation increase.,

Vote – Yea: 33   Nay: 1 (Fenchak)

All other items passed unanimously:

  • Action Item 2:
    The Facilities and Academic Unit Naming Committee has recommended that the Board of Trustees name the Chemistry Building at University Park the “Benkovic Building” in honor of Dr. Stephen J. Benkovic. Stephen Benkovic, PhD, retired in 2008 after serving on Penn State’s faculty for 48 years.

He is a highly decorated scientist and an Atherton Professor whose work defined the field of bio-organic chemistry and set the stage for its rapid development. Will the Board of Trustees adopt the following resolution: RESOLVED, That the Chemistry Building at University Park be named “Benkovic Building.”

Vote – Yea: 34 Nay: 0

  • Action Item 3:
    Proposed Authorization to Expend Funds, Physics Building and Osmond Laboratory Renovation, University Park.

The University intends to renovate a portion of the Osmond Laboratory and construct a 48,000 square foot addition above a renovated basement in support of the Physics Department. The renovations will include specialized physics research lab spaces. The addition will add a research facility that provides space for large-scale instrument assembly and testing allowing for the safe movement of large research equipment. The lecture hall renovations will include fixing structural issues, new seating, new finishes, and classroom technology.

Will the Board of Trustees adopt the following resolutions: RESOLVED, That the Physics Building and Osmond Laboratory Renovation at University Park, as designed by ZGF Architects, LLP of Washington, DC is approved.  FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED, That authorization to expend funds and award contracts to accomplish the project is approved in the amount of $115,000,000.

This project had been included in the previous Capital Plan, but was re-worked/re-booted into this year’s capital Plan.  Originally the project called for a cost of approximately $150 Million, but was redesigned to make some adjustments/reductions and reduce costs.

A portion of the costs, approximately $76 Million, is being paid for by a grant through the PA Department of General Services.  (In addition to the regular state appropriation, Penn State receives, each year, significant funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania DGS, to underwrite costs for various capital projects.  It is a very sizable amount each year of the additional taxpayer funds sent to Penn State.)

In the Finance Committee meetings earlier this month, and again on Thursday, I inquired as to whether the Faculty and Department Chair of the Physics department had been brought into the discussions to ensure that their highest priority concerns were addressed in the re-worked project.  I received what I felt was a positive response.

Vote – Yea: 34 Nay: 0

  • Action Item 4:
    Proposed Real Estate Divestiture at 505 East Wopsononock Avenue, Penn State Altoona.

The University proposes to dispose of approximately 0.1377 acres at 505 East Wopsononock Avenue, Altoona, Blair County, Pennsylvania, which includes a 2,014 square foot single family residence. The property was originally a gift via Bargain Sale from Athleen Stere, with the cash portion of the $50k sales price provided by John and Alice Joyce. It is now the goal of the Campus to sell the property and repurpose those funds into another gift fund consistent with the original donors’ intentions.

Will the Board of Trustees adopt the following resolutions: RESOLVED, That the Board of Trustees approves the sale of approximately 0.1377 acres and all improvements located at 505 East Wopsononock Avenue, City of Altoona, and County of Blair, Pennsylvania, to Mark Gasbarro, in the amount of $111,000. FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED, That the Officers of the University are authorized and directed to execute and deliver any agreements, deeds, instruments or other documents and to take such other actions as are necessary to make effective this resolution.

Vote – Yea: 34 Nay: 0

  • Action Item 5:
    Proposed Annual Applications, Renewals and Other Filings Required by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

This item was to approve the renewal of PLCB liquor licenses for various locations. It requires an annual vote.

Vote – Yea: 34 Nay: 0

At the end of the meeting, a motion was proposed by Trustee Lubrano to approve recognizing Sue and Joe Paterno for their unwaivering of Penn State. I urge you to listen to Trustee Lubrano’s speech at the 1:31 minute mark. Trustee Paterno made comments, which ended with his request that the motion be tabled until a later time. Trustee Lubrano then withdrew his motion and the meeting was adjourned.

Many alumni have reached out to me for my views on this subject, which I am happy to provide:

I, along with many Penn State alumni, friends, and fans, am deeply saddened by Penn State leadership's failure to substantively honor Sue and Joe Paterno’s contribution to our school. Fear is no reason to continue to believe, and perpetuate, deliberate falsehoods that were disproven years ago. As a university, we should be celebrating one of the most outstanding educators, benefactors, and philanthropists we have been blessed with.

As students, we rose to Joe Paterno's high level of expectations and those standards became recognized around the world. We owe a great debt to the Paterno family for helping make a Penn State degree a symbol of quality and excellence. I commend Trustee Anthony Lubrano's commitment to help, in some way, repay that debt and demonstrate our continued efforts to restore Penn State to its former glory. If this motion had been brought to a full vote I would have proudly voted YES.

* University president compensations are contractually negotiated and usually have salary and defered payment components, making equivalent comparisons difficult. Three Big10 schools, Ohio State University, Indiana University, and Purdue University, have what could be referred to as bonuses tied to specific goal achievement which skews comparisons. Penn State, however, has no performance goals and no portion of President Bendapudi’s income is at performance risk.

As a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, I will from time to time be made aware of certain confidential information.  I will also engage with Trustees and administrators in private, off-the-record conversations, with the expectation of privacy on both parties. I take these expectations seriously, as they are required in order to catalyze important discussions.As a fiduciary, it is also important that I engage in conversations with all stakeholders of the University. Stakeholders like you.  Discussions will involve publicly available information and issues before the Board, as well as my personal thoughts, concerns, and ideas. I also will continue to solicit your thoughts, concerns, and ideas, and plan to engage in meaningful conversations with you on those topics. I hope that you will continue to share your concerns and ideas with me via my contact page.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.