Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

Penn State President Rodney Erickson delivered the following remarks during the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, held Nov. 16 on the University Park campus.

This Board meeting comes one year from my appointment as president. I guess that means the honeymoon is officially over. It has been a long year by any measure, and at the same time, it has flown by.

As a community, we’ve learned much about ourselves, our many cultures, our values and our vision. In particular, I want to commend our students for their caring and commitment to others, as well as their resilience and their positive energy.

The Daily Collegian and Onward State deserve a special mention.

As reporters and journalists, these students needed to fully and responsibly cover the Sandusky scandal, and yet, they seemed to be able to do it without unduly maligning their university. They have also kept up their spirit over the last year.

For example, Onward State recently posted 100 Reasons Why “We Still Are.” It’s a wonderful list of academic achievements, athletic accomplishments, service work, social activities and quirks that make Penn State unique.

For example, Reason No. 10 -- “The friendly Penn State squirrels," and No. 51 -- “Alumni-created businesses that help serve the greater world.” Even Adam Taliaferro made the list, coming in at No. 93, so he didn’t rank as highly as our squirrels. I guess the reasons were not in any particular ordering.

Now, I have some excellent news to share.

Today, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education verified that Penn State is in full compliance with all of its requirements, and that our university’s accreditation is solid.

Their report unequivocally stated that Penn State meets all quality standards for accreditation, and it also acknowledged the University's resilience, fiscal stability and rapid change in the face of numerous challenges. Today's news lifts a ‘warning’ that Middle States had issued to Penn State on Aug. 8, based on the fallout from the Sandusky scandal.

While Penn State's accreditation always remained intact, a group of Middle States evaluators visited Penn State in mid-October. After a thorough review, the team determined that Penn State is responding appropriately to the leadership, governance and financial challenges created by the scandal. The evaluation team's report states it is "impressed by the degree to which Penn State has risen, as a strong campus community, to the sad events that led to its placement on 'warning' status.” It also said Penn State's process to respond to the Freeh recommendations has been "thorough, inclusive, systematic and timely."

The evaluators also commended the entire Penn State community for "its response to tragic events in a way that, to date, has emphasized unity and positive change over recrimination."

Other notable areas of the evaluation that impacted the commission's decision were:

-- Swift changes in the Board of Trustees, including structure and processes, and replacement of key administrative leaders;
-- Efforts to increase awareness of child abuse and sexual assault across the University;
-- The creation of new positions to ensure campus knowledge of and compliance with laws and regulations; and
-- The development and revision of numerous policies to address concerns related to integrity.

We appreciate the responsiveness of the Middle States Commission to our request for a timely review and the Commission’s actions to remove the warning. Obviously the action will reassure our current and prospective students and their parents. To read the full report, visit live.psu.edu.

This afternoon, you’ll be hearing a report on Penn State’s admissions, enrollment and financial aid numbers, so I’ll just comment briefly on our current status in the admissions cycle.

Penn State has received approximately 27,000 undergraduate applications by this time, the beginning of the heaviest months of the year for applications. Although somewhat down from the record numbers seen in the last couple of years, and approximately at the pace in 2009, we are on track to admit another outstanding class rich in geographic diversity.

This year, our incoming class was among the finest ever admitted to Penn State, and the quality of the applicant pool for next year is identical.

As they say, even Harvard recruits, and we have stepped up our in-state, out-of-state and international recruiting efforts this cycle to attract the best possible students. We’re also launching an exciting new program that will connect our current students with prospective students from their hometowns, an initiative that was the idea of our current students.

Anne Rohrbach and Anna Griswold will provide more details on admissions and financial aid in their upcoming presentation.

There is no doubt that it has been a challenging year at Penn State, but we have never faltered in our commitment to providing a top tier education at a public university price. We’re doing our absolute best to hold the line on tuition increases, which is why this year we had the lowest tuition increase in 45 years. Working in concert with the state, we hope to be able to maintain this trend.

In keeping with the need for collaboration, I’m pleased to report that the Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education has completed our charge by Governor Corbett. Yesterday, we submitted a report that outlines 19 key recommendations, approved unanimously, for improving educational and training choices for the future. The Commission’s work was a learning experience in itself and a great opportunity to collaborate with 30 other commissioners drawn from education, business, and government in search of common goals and supporting recommendations.

There are four major goals articulated in the report. They focus on providing opportunities for lifelong learning; ensuring greater access to and affordability of postsecondary education; supporting the diversity and richness of Pennsylvania’s educational system; and enhancing the Commonwealth’s economic vitality and the state’s ability to compete globally.

The report affirms the need for renewed and stable public funding, while embracing the concept of performance-based allocations for future funding streams and cost containment efforts.

I’m very pleased that the report recognizes the importance of ensuring the health and vitality of our public educational institutions. It also recognizes the key role that Pennsylvania’s research universities -- both public and private -- play in the state’s business and workforce development, and the need to invest in these university drivers of national and global economic competitiveness through innovation and advanced research in science, technology, engineering and medicine.

You can find more information at www.pahigheredcommission.com. I hope you will study the Commission’s work, and that we will have an opportunity to discuss various aspects of the report in our own Penn State context during future committee meetings of the Board. I believe the report can also help to inform the deliberations of the Blue and White Vision Council.

Despite a year of challenges and change, Penn State and our surrounding community continue to earn top spots in national rankings. This year, State College was ranked third-best among college towns for college students by the American Institute for Economic Research. This ranking was based primarily on the academic environment, quality of life and professional opportunity.

True to our roots in agriculture, the Dairy Judging team from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences took top honors at the recent Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in the 2012 World Dairy Expo. Notably, this competition was held in Madison, Wis., which as you know is a state where they proudly wear wedges of cheese on their heads. (I confess I have a cheese head back at my house in honor of my home state!) Winning a dairy competition there is real a feat, and Penn State bested a group of 19 teams.

Penn State was also recognized among the top producers of U.S. Fulbright Scholars. During this academic year, 10 Penn State students will do research abroad and teach English in countries including Sri Lanka, Poland, Singapore, Botswana, Croatia, and Macau.

For the fifth year in a row, Penn State ranks high in the number of graduating seniors entering Teach For America. Among schools with more than 10,000 students, Penn State posted the seventh-highest numbers this year, up from a 15th place ranking last year. This fall, 64 recent Penn State graduates have joined the corps, which makes a total of 450 Penn Staters who have worked with Teach for America since 1990.

Erin Ball, a member of the Penn State class of 2011, teaches in South Carolina. She said, “I joined Teach For America so I could do my part to ensure that children growing up in poverty have the same shot at a great education as kids in more affluent communities. I’m thrilled to know that so many of the Penn State class of 2012 are partners in this critical work.”

Penn State was also recently recognized by the U.S. State Department as one of the nation’s top institutions with the most international students. According to the Open Doors 2012 report produced by the Institute of International Education, Penn State now ranks 12th, up three spots from last year. This is consistent with the double-digit percentage increases we’ve seen in applications for admissions from international students, which this year are up 10 percent. According to the Assistant Secretary of State, Ann Stock, “International education strengthens economies, cultivates globally-minded leaders and advances foreign policy priorities at home and around the world.”

What’s more, in addition to the cultural exchange benefits, international students have a significant impact on the economy. The aggregate net economic contributions of international students to the U.S. economy last year was about $22 billion, of which Pennsylvania was the sixth largest beneficiary, with more than $1 billion. For the first time, Penn State ranked No. 1 in the Commonwealth, ahead of the University of Pennsylvania, with more than $187 million in revenue from international student enrollment.

Despite the travel challenges presented by Hurricane Sandy, scholars, practitioners, survivors and members of the public convened for Penn State’s Child Sexual Abuse Conference. Highlights of the conference were many, including the keynote address by Sugar Ray Leonard and a message of hope offered by Elizabeth Smart to close the conference. Recordings of many of the sessions can be found at protectchildren.psu.edu.

This was a wonderful week for children and families in Central Pennsylvania, because on Tuesday we dedicated the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Ford Stryker will provide more details on the building in his presentation later today, so I’ll just say that this hospital will advance the extraordinary care that has made the Children’s Hospital a leader in pediatric medical care.

The realization of this project represents a wonderful collaboration among medical professionals, patients, donors, the legislature and business partners. It also brings new hope for families, and it will promote health and wellness in the community. Hal Paz, Senior Vice President for Health Affairs and CEO of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center played a critical role throughout this process. He was also recently elected to the position of chair-elect of the Association of Academic Health Centers Board. This nonprofit association is dedicated to advancing the nation’s health and well-being through leadership of academic health centers. Please join me in recognizing Hal for his leadership and vision.

Thank you, Hal.

This fall marked the 40th anniversary of the Palmer Museum of Art, which is a success story in its own right. It’s interesting to note that when the Museum opened its doors, it had no permanent collection. It was solely for temporary exhibitions. But on that opening day in 1972, more than 1,500 people visited the Museum, and over the years it has grown into the most comprehensive art museum between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

In 1986, a renaming took place when James and Barbara Palmer contributed a lead gift toward expansion efforts. This year there will be about 36,000 visitors, and I encourage all of you to be part of that crowd. For the anniversary, nearly all the items throughout the museum are from the permanent collection, including works by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein.

Turning your attention to research. Over the last two months, Penn State faculty members have received a number of high profile awards. Among them are:

-- Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism is part of the $1.48 million research collaborative that will study violent extremism among Somali refugee groups in North America. The project is under the direction of John Horgan, who is internationally renowned for his work to counter violent extremism and to contribute to national security. The work is sponsored by the Minerva Research Initiative of the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Justice.

-- One month ago today, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack awarded Penn State a $10 million research grant to develop biomass supply chains for the production of liquid transportation and aviation biofuels in the Northeast. This will contribute to improving rural prosperity and create jobs. The award is through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and will be led by Tom Richard, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

-- The last award I will mention today is an $11.9 million National Science Foundation award to support the establishment of a multi-institution research network on Sustainable Climate Risk Management strategies. This network is centered at Penn State and spans nine additional U.S. universities and research institutes. Klaus Keller, associate professor of geosciences, will direct the Network in its efforts to help formulate sustainable climate risk management strategies.

Last academic year, new awards for research reached $770 million, a nearly 11 percent increase over the previous year. So far this academic year, new awards are running neck-and-neck above last year’s record pace. This success has been occurring as the federal funding environment has become even more competitive, and is a tribute to the outstanding quality of the Penn State faculty. The Colleges of Health and Human Development, Engineering, and Earth and Mineral Sciences, in particular, have been on an incredible roll this year. I couldn’t be more proud of all of our faculty.

As I told the National Press Club two weeks ago, there’s a great deal that is right about athletics at Penn State. Our student-athletes graduate well above their peers nationwide. This year they earned an 88 percent graduation success rate compared to 80 percent for all Division I schools; the football team’s rate is 91 percent.

This level of achievement spans all sports teams, academic majors and ethnicity: notably African-American student-athletes earned a record 90 percent rate, which is 25 points higher than the national average.

Just last week four Penn State student-athletes were selected to the Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-District Football Team. They will be eligible for consideration for the Academic All-America Team. Penn State’s honorees are defensive end Brad Bars, linebacker Ben Kline, defensive end Pete Massaro and guard John Urschel.  With four honorees, Penn State leads all Football Bowl Subdivision institutions and tied Duke, Nebraska and Northern Illinois. The quartet of honorees is the most for the Nittany Lions since 2009.

This fall has also seen some powerhouse performances by our student-athletes in field hockey, soccer, cross country, volleyball and ice hockey. Basketball and wrestling are just getting started, and they look to be exciting seasons as well.

Of special note: tonight at Jeffrey Field, our top-seeded women’s soccer team will face Boston College in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The women are the Big Ten Champions for the 15th straight season.

Tomorrow, the Penn State women’s cross country squad will be competing in the NCAA Championships in Louisville. The women’s team took top honors at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, edging defending NCAA Champion Georgetown. Senior Sam Masters will also be competing at the Championship. He received one of 29 individual spots.

In development news, we continue to move closer to our $2 billion goal for For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. The campaign remains ahead of schedule in terms of progress toward goal relative to time elapsed, and we have had excellent turnouts at recent events including our Volunteer Summit, President’s Club Reception and our first Celebrating Faculty Endowments Dinner. More than 1,200 people participated in those three events, and in each case, it was a genuine atmosphere of celebration -- made even more special by additional leadership gifts: Jeff and Cindy King committed an additional $3 million gift, which will direct funding to faculty endowments; and Peter and Ann Tombros committed an additional $5 million, bringing their generous total to $10 million.

The Class of 2013 has chosen a very special gift to the University. The sculpture will consist of large, three-dimensional letters, spelling the iconic "We Are," with the words of the Penn State Alma Mater inscribed across them in the original handwriting of Fred Lewis Pattee.

These are two of the most cherished expressions of who we are. In addition, because the students rallied together to secure more than 3,000 commitments to the class gift, Ed and Helen Hintz have pledged to endow a Trustee Scholarship in the class’s name. Thank you Ed and Helen for making this great class gift tradition even more meaningful.

Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO at General Electric, paid a visit to the University Park campus in October, which highlighted his company’s ongoing partnership with Penn State. He talked to students, faculty and staff about the importance of continued collaboration between GE and Penn State, focusing on the education of a global workforce and continued innovation through research. He also presented $400,000 to support scholarships in three Penn State colleges and sponsored research in the College of Engineering.

Students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, will have unprecedented access to world-class animation and modeling software thanks to a gift, valued at $21.7 million, from Autodesk, a leading global developer of 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. This is the first time Autodesk has provided full access to its top products through a grant of software to a college or university, and it is the largest ever gift to Penn State Behrend. Every student and faculty member at Penn State Behrend has access to this software. This will be a game-changer for our students.

As you’ve heard in this report, Penn State continues to move forward and embrace the challenges. Not only those that have come from the events of the past year, but those that come from being part of the higher education landscape, a large public land grant research university, and yes, a university that continues to believe that great academics and great athletics can not only co-exist, but can be mutually reinforcing components of a university education.

I hope you share my pride in our students, faculty, staff and the hundreds of thousands of Penn State alumni and friends. Our difficulties are not over, but I assure you that Penn State’s best days are ahead.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated October 13, 2013