Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson delivers final remarks

Penn State President Rodney Erickson offered his regularly scheduled President's Report at the start of today's (May 9) Board of Trustees meeting in Dean's Hall of The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel at the University Park campus. Following is a transcript of his remarks, which are the last of his presidency.

Thank you, Keith. I’m pleased to share some University news and highlights for my final president’s report of this academic year and my 37 years at Penn State.

Before I begin, I want to say what a privilege it has been to lead this institution as president and to contribute as a teacher, researcher and administrator over the course of my career. I’m very proud of the ambitious work underway on our campuses throughout the Commonwealth, and it has been a great honor to work with dedicated Penn Staters from all walks of life.

During my report today, I will recognize a few of the people who have recently brought honor to our institution, but I wish to offer my sincerest appreciation to all of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends for pursuing work that is amazing and inspiring. It’s the collective work of the Penn State community that has made this institution a global leader in teaching, research and service. And I truly believe that Penn State’s best days are ahead.

With that, I’ll begin my report with an admissions update.

Thursday, May 1, was the deadline for accepting admissions offers at University Park, and although we will continue to accept applications at the Commonwealth Campuses, the snapshot of our incoming summer and fall class is coming into focus. Throughout the year, we have seen a strong and steady flow of applications, and in fact, this year we set a new record.

As of May 5, the total number of undergraduate applications was more than 81,000, which is roughly 14 percent higher than last year and an increase of 5 percent over 2012.

Total applications (undergraduate, graduate, law, medical and Penn College of Technology) are nearly 120,000. That’s about 12,000 more applications than last year at this time, and nearly 3,000 more than in 2012.

Out of this record group, to date, 17,093 students have accepted their offers of admission to enter our baccalaureate programs. This is about 600 more than last year and about 1,200 more than in 2012 as of this same date. 2,300 of these students will start their studies in the summer -- also a high water mark.

From all indications, the quality of the incoming students is excellent; continuing the trend of higher SAT scores and grade-point averages.

Since the first 12 students earned their degrees in 1861, Penn State has awarded more than 750,000 degrees.

Beginning this weekend, more than 13,000 students will be added to that total. Penn State will award 496 associate degrees; 10,809 baccalaureate degrees; 1,195 master’s degrees; 190 doctoral degrees; 133 medical degrees; and 239 law degrees.

Commencement is one of the most joyous days in the lives of our students and their families, and on behalf of our graduates, I wish to thank our Trustees who will be authorizing the granting of degrees in each of the respective ceremonies.

A few Penn State administrators will also be “graduating” this spring, so to speak. David Hall, dean of the College of Information Sciences and Technology, will conclude his deanship this summer. He plans to take a sabbatical and then return to the Penn State faculty to pursue the teaching and research he loves.

Doug Anderson, dean of the College of Communications, is retiring after 15 years at Penn State. Doug is a respected scholar and administrator, and he ushered in a new era of excellence in communication.

Indeed this week we learned that the College of Communications has captured an unprecedented third consecutive national championship in the overall intercollegiate standings in the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program.

Penn State is the first school in the program’s history to Three-Peat as overall champion.

The competition, often called “the Pulitzers of college journalism,” is in its 54th year, and is open to the nation’s 108 nationally accredited journalism-mass communication programs. This is a great credit to Doug as well as the standout students and faculty in our College of Communications.

The Commonwealth Campuses are also seeing some leadership changes.

Gary Keefer, chancellor of Penn State Beaver, is retiring after 18 years on that campus. Gary began his academic career as a first-generation college student at Penn State Fayette, and he has served as an exceptional leader, who built a strong campus community.

Finally, Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, will welcome W. Charles Patrick, as chancellor and chief academic officer in mid-June. Charles previously served as chief academic officer and professor of engineering at Penn State Worthington Scranton.

Over the next two months the General Assembly will hammer out the 2014-15 state budget, including an appropriation for Penn State and the rest of higher education. The legislature and governor are doing so in a persistently challenging fiscal environment, with recent revenue projections indicating that the state will end this fiscal year in a deficit. I urge our leaders in Harrisburg to find a way to adopt a balanced budget, while maintaining its commitment to funding higher education at least at current levels.

Penn State alumni and students did their part to make the case for supporting Penn State during the Rally at the Rotunda on Capital Day. I was pleased that so many Penn Staters made the trip to Harrisburg to represent our interests. Many legislators remarked how articulate and professional our students were in their interactions with elected officials.

This has also been a challenging year for research funding. The effects of sequestration and uncertainties surrounding federal agency budgets are playing out across the nation as more faculty are competing for the limited funds available. Success rates on new proposals at major federal funding sources are frequently less than 20 percent.

That said, our faculty continue to be successful in this highly competitive environment. Our new awards for research are tracking right with last year’s level. And I should note that my fellow presidents and chancellors of the AAU and other higher education organizations have been working diligently to convince Congress to place a high priority on research funding to stop what is now being called the “Innovation Deficit” from growing larger as we compete with other countries in the global economy.

The reason Penn State has been so successful is due to the efforts of our faculty and the staff that support them. And now I would like to recognize a few of our very best.

First, I’m pleased to announce that we have named three new Evan Pugh professors.

The title of Evan Pugh professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed by the University on its faculty.

Only 65 have received these professorships since the title’s inception in 1960. It is given to faculty whose research, publications and creative work are of the highest quality; who are acknowledged national and international leaders in their fields; who are involved in pioneering research or creative accomplishments; and who demonstrate excellent teaching skills.

This year’s honorees are: Nina G. Jablonski, distinguished professor of anthropology in the College of the Liberal Arts; B. Franklin Pugh, Willaman professor of molecular biology in the Eberly College of Science; and Andrew F. Read, alumni professor in the biological sciences and professor of entomology in the Eberly College of Science. Dr. Read is out of town, but I’m pleased to be able to present the medals to Drs. Jablonski and Pugh today. Provost Jones and Dr. Jablonski, will you please join me at the podium for the first presentation?

Dr. Jablonski conducts research on the evolution and environmental adaptations of Old World primates including humans. She conducts field-based research in primate paleontology in China and Kenya, and works to understand how monkeys, apes and humans have evolved in relation to environmental change in the last 10 million years. Her research on the evolution of human adaptations to the environment focuses on the evolution of skin and skin pigmentation, including the health implications of skin pigmentation for modern people. She leads national and international programs to educate children and young adults about human diversity, while stimulating youth interest in science careers.

Congratulations!

Would Dr. Frank Pugh please join me?

Although Frank Pugh is not directly related to Evan Pugh, Frank has continued the rich legacy of science that was first established by our founding president. Dr. Pugh has built a research program that has won wide renown for its investigations into how genes are controlled in cells. He has focused particularly on the 6,000 genes of the baker’s yeast, since they allow for the most efficient means of discovering transcriptional regulatory mechanisms.

Lessons learned from these model organisms provide the foundation for a better understanding of how genes are regulated in humans, and how mis-regulation of genes leads to diseases such as cancer.  

Congratulations!

Continuing with this spirit of recognition …

Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology, and Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences, were honored with the first ever Friend of the Planet award from the National Center for Science Education. The new award was created to honor a select few whose efforts to support NCSE and advance its goal of defending the teaching of climate science have been truly exceptional.

Dr. Alley was also recently elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, the national Academy of Science in the United Kingdom.

Denise Costanzo, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at Penn State, is the recipient of a 2014 Rome Prize Fellowship in Modern Italian Studies from the American Academy in Rome. The Rome Prize is one of the most prestigious honors in the field, and is awarded each year to about 30 emerging artists and scholars.

For everyone who has been diligently sorting their trash, I’m pleased to say your efforts have been noticed.

Penn State was selected to receive the Association of Physical Plant Administrator’s 2014 Sustainability Award, which is designed to recognize and advance sustainability excellence in educational facilities. This award recognizes the facilities management department that has integrated sustainable policies and “green” practices throughout all facets of the organization and embedded them within the educational institution.

In addition, today President Obama is announcing that Penn State is one of the new participants in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Building Challenge.

As part of this challenge, Penn State has joined other leading organizations in a commitment to reducing our energy consumption by 20 percent within the next 10 years.

Would David Gray, Ford Stryker and Steve Maruszewski please stand for a moment? David, Ford and Steve have championed recycling and green policies at Penn State, and their efforts have reduced waste, saved money and contributed to a healthier environment for all of us. Please join me in congratulating them on their national leadership.

Thank you.

Turning to intercollegiate athletics.

This has been a year for the record books … in the classroom, in service and in competition. Here are just a few highlights.

Last semester, 468 Penn State student-athletes set a school record by earning a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher; this tops the previous Penn State record and represents 59 percent of Penn State’s nearly 800 student-athletes enrolled last fall.

Then there’s John Urschel, with his 4.0 GPA, record of stellar teaching, impressive stats on the gridiron, and genuine enthusiasm for math, football and service to others. John most recently won the AAU Sullivan Award, which honors the top amateur athlete in the country.

In addition, this year our student-athletes devoted more than 5,000 hours to helping about 90 organizations, including the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, the State College Area School District and TIDES, which is a support program for grieving children and families.

This demonstrates a very significant commitment, given their incredibly busy academic, practice and game schedules.

Special congratulations go to the wrestling team that won its fourth straight National Championship, becoming only the third team in history to do so. Also, for the second year, David Taylor won the Hodge Trophy, which goes to the top wrestler in the nation.

In other winter competitions, Penn State Fencing clinched its 13th national title, to become the winningest fencing program in the NCAA.

These two championships, plus women’s volleyball, are the most championships that Penn State has won in a single academic year since 1999-2000. This feat puts Penn State in second place for the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, just behind Stanford.

It has been a thrill to watch all of our student-athletes compete at the highest levels, and to see their success in so many ways.

Finally, a few words about the historic celebration of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.

It took a DeLorean, some incredible students and faculty, the Nittany Lion and campaign chair Peter Tombros, but on Blue-White weekend we learned that the most significant fundraising effort in our history has surpassed its goal, raising $2.158 billion in private support.

Penn State is one of only 12 public universities in the nation to have exceeded a $2 billion campaign goal. We received support from 167,500 alumni, believed to be the most alumni donors to any campaign in the country.

In addition, several donors stepped up with significant gifts to add to the total. Notably …

Longtime friends of Penn State, Ed and Jeanne Arnold, committed an additional $10 million to advance Penn State Hershey's missions.

This gift is in addition to the $8 million they committed to the new Children's Hospital and the nearly $1.8 million they have given throughout the campaign to support numerous other initiatives at Penn State Hershey, including nursing, cancer research, Children’s Miracle Network and the Four Diamonds Fund.

This latest gift brings the Arnolds’ support for Penn State Hershey to $19.8 million.

Volunteers and alumni Jack and Jeanette McWhirter committed $5 million to advance graduate education in the Department of Chemical Engineering. By providing first-year fellowship support for incoming graduate students, this transformational gift will enhance the Department’s ability to recruit talented candidates for the program.

With this new gift, the McWhirter’s support for Penn State has reached nearly $8 million and now extends from Engineering to the Libraries to Athletics.

Penn State 2013 Philanthropists of the Year Tracy and Ted McCourtney have endowed the Penn State Institute for Democracy with a transformative gift of $3 million.

Their gift provides the Institute with a permanent endowment that will help fund student and faculty research and public outreach programs that aspire to elevate the quality of public and policy makers’ discussions of important public concerns. In response to the couple’s tremendous generosity, the University will name the institute in their honor: The McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

The McCourtneys' giving to Penn State now exceeds $8 million in total support.

We owe our thanks to our tireless volunteer campaign chair Peter Tombros; as well as senior vice president of development and alumni relations Rod Kirsch; and his outstanding team. We also owe our gratitude to the past and present members of the board who contributed more than $110 million to the campaign. And nearly 13,000 faculty and staff from across Penn State, who have given more than $61 million to the campaign. Please join me in giving everyone a round of applause.

To conclude my remarks, I would again like to thank you for the privilege of working with all of you. Penn State has been a wonderful place to grow personally and professionally. And I know that you will continue to pursue quality and excellence in everything you do.

Our distinguished alumnus and benefactor Bill Schreyer perhaps said it best: “It feels good to be a Penn Stater. You feel like you belong to a great institution that is only getting better.”

Thank you. Now I can take a few questions.

Last Updated May 13, 2014