Board of Trustees meets; President Erickson's remarks

July 13, 2012

President Rodney Erickson's Report to the Board of Trustees
1:30 p.m. July 13, 2012
Penn State Worthington Scranton

Good afternoon. I want to begin by thanking Chancellor Krogh-Jespersen and her staff for hosting us this week. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hold our meeting here, and realize that it is a large undertaking -- especially this week, with the release of the Freeh Report and the additional associated media and public attention. Please join me in giving the Chancellor and her hardworking staff a round of applause.

Thank you. We’ll have the chance to hear from Mary-Beth after my remarks.

To begin, I want to make a brief statement about the Freeh Report. As I mentioned at our press conference yesterday, I was horrified when I learned of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky last November. Over the past few months, and especially following the release of the Freeh Report, it has become clear to me that we need to reconsider our community’s leadership culture -- especially with regard to how the Administration works with the Board of Trustees. We’ve begun to work together much more collaboratively and productively, and that’s why I especially welcome our meetings today.

Given the depth and breadth of this report, it will take some time to review, analyze and discuss the report’s findings and how best we can implement the changes. From our initial review, it’s clear that Judge Freeh has delivered a comprehensive account that provides needed clarity for our university, and on behalf of Penn State, I thank him and his team for their professionalism and hard work.

Beyond providing greater understanding of what happened in the past, Judge Freeh’s report offers a roadmap to help Penn State continue to move forward.

In the weeks ahead, we will need to carefully review and consider each of the report’s recommendations, and to guide the process, we have developed a series of immediate next steps.

First, in keeping with the Board of Trustees’ responsibility as the governing body of the University, Chairman Peetz has directed the individual committees of the board to review the sections of the report that apply to their specific functions and responsibilities, and to provide preliminary responses and action plans.

Second, I have appointed a team to coordinate and implement operational changes suggested by the Freeh Report. This group includes Tom Poole, vice president for administration; David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business; and Stephen Dunham, vice president and general counsel, pending his confirmation later this afternoon. Together, these individuals bring more than 70 years of experience in higher education, and an appropriate lens through which to knowledgeably weigh the potential impact and feasibility of the report’s recommendations. The group will report directly to me and have the necessary authority and resources to implement corrective or proactive measures.

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees will see that the plan is implemented.

During the review and implementation process, we will continue to share information with the public on our progress through the aptly named website, www.progress.psu.edu.

The report’s interim recommendations have already helped our community move forward in many ways, and I expect that the recommendations delivered in the final report will help us continue on that path.

To date, Penn State has taken a number of actions including: strengthening policies and programs involving minors, including child abuse and mandated reporter training; ensuring a process for prompt reporting of abuse and sexual misconduct; hiring a new Clery Compliance Coordinator and providing Clery Act training for employees; beginning a national search for the newly created position of director of University Compliance; and restructuring within the Board of Trustees to ensure diligent governance of the University.

We are committed to addressing our failings. But this report also reinforces our commitment to helping to build greater awareness of the societal issue of child abuse. Child sexual abuse happened at Penn State, but it also happens, every day, in communities across Pennsylvania, the United States and the world. That is why Penn State has also undertaken a number of actions to help build greater awareness of the societal issue of child sexual abuse, and to be a constructive participant in preventing, reporting and responding to such abuse. This is a problem that plagues many other communities, and we have a special duty to increase awareness, prevention, and treatment of child sexual abuse.

We have partnered with leading organizations in this field. We are planning a national conference for this fall at University Park to focus on educating the public about the signs of, response to and prevention of child sexual abuse. We’ve created a Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment to bring together a broad spectrum of faculty from across the University to coordinate and develop research, clinical practice, outreach and education on child maltreatment. In addition, Penn State has formed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to extend the collective reach of their programs, and Penn State has donated more than $2.6 million to abuse prevention efforts since November of last year.

While yesterday’s issuance of the Freeh Report provides some level of clarity for our community, it does not undo the pain that the victims of Jerry Sandusky have experienced, and continue to experience. Penn State has partnered with Praesidium to arrange counseling services for those who suffered abuse from Sandusky, and we’re working to help the victims of child abuse in every way we can.

We realize that we are still at the beginning of this process and we have many challenges ahead. But as I pointed out yesterday, the Freeh Report notes that in spite of the challenges we have faced over the past few months, Penn State “is an outstanding institution, nationally renowned for its excellence in academics and research.” We are committed to continuing to move forward and are grateful for our outstanding students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends, and their excellent work that contributes so much to our institution, the Commonwealth and the world.

Against this backdrop, I wish to share some notable achievements in recent weeks.

Later this afternoon I will provide a detailed report on the budget, but at this time, I wish to express our gratitude to the governor and those in the General Assembly who worked to provide level funding for Penn State, as well as the other state-related and state institutions. We recognize that there are many competing interests for limited state dollars, and we’re committed to offering a superb return on that investment. Given my heritage of Scandinavian frugality, I have a history of getting the cost-saving assignments. I assure you we will continue to promote the virtues of thrift at Penn State.

I also was greatly encouraged by the collaboration evidenced in this year’s budget process, and hope that it represents a renewal of the historic close working relationship between our institution and the state. By aligning our efforts, I believe we can help fulfill our mutual goals of providing an educated workforce, economic growth, discovery and innovation, and service to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

To that end, I’m pleased to be participating on the Governor’s Advisory Commission for Postsecondary Education through this summer and into the fall. This is a group of about 30 people including college and university presidents, as well as government and business leaders. Gov. Tom Corbett asked us for recommendations that would help establish and maintain “a robust and responsive postsecondary education system in the Commonwealth for the 21st century.”

As a starting point, it’s important to recognize that Pennsylvania’s system of postsecondary education as a whole is remarkably strong and successful. For example, Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state in the nation for attracting out-of-state college students, and it has three of the top-20 research universities in the United States. This is accomplished very efficiently and has proven to be an excellent value in relation to per capita government spending. We hope to build on that tradition and strength as Pennsylvania prepares for a changing world, increasing global competition and a knowledge economy.

At Penn State, we believe we can meet those goals through excellence in teaching, research and service, and it’s heartening to know that families place their confidence, and their students, with us for higher education. Despite the challenges over the last eight months, Penn State remains the top choice for tens of thousands of high-achieving students.

Total applications for all campuses are approaching 120,000, which is about 1,000 ahead of last year. Undergraduate applications continue to run about 2 percent ahead of last year’s record pace, and more than 6,000 ahead of two years ago. Minority applications are ahead by more than 3 percent, and we continue to see robust growth in international undergraduate applications at both University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses. And graduate applications continue to come in at record numbers, up 2 percent over last year.

The predictions for the final enrollments of new first-year baccalaureate students for summer and fall indicate that we should come very close to the goal of 7,400, a modest increase over the original target of 7,200 for University Park. Our net enrollment for the Commonwealth Campuses is slightly down from last year, but we’re still receiving applications and deposits, and the gap is closing. Many of our Commonwealth Campus students are juggling families and jobs, so their decision-making timeframe is very different than that of our traditional students.

Another bright spot in admissions comes from the World Campus. Undergraduate and graduate course enrollments are up 19 percent this year, with nearly 47,000 course enrollments, many serving non-traditional and place-bound students. We expect that number of enrollments to triple over the next decade or so.

Meanwhile, our physical campuses have also been vibrant hubs of activity in recent months. In May, University Park hosted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cathie Woteki, the undersecretary of research education, as they commemorated the 150th anniversary of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the system of land-grant universities. Penn State currently has more than 60 active USDA research grants totaling more than $30 million, so we took the opportunity to showcase our research laboratories, and to hold meetings with Penn State faculty and representatives from 4-H and FFA.

One of the highlights of the day was a lecture by Sec. Vilsack to a capacity crowd during which he emphasized the importance of agricultural research at institutions such as Penn State. He believes that continuing groundbreaking and innovative research in agriculture can help create more job opportunities in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

As I reported in May, our research enterprise continues to be strong. At the close of the fiscal year, new awards for research to Penn State are up more than 11 percent over last year, at more than $769 million. In addition to the new knowledge that comes from this funding, these dollars have an immediate impact through research jobs, graduate assistantships, equipment purchases and staff support positions. Not to belabor the point, but these research dollars also lead to spinoff ventures that multiply the impact in our communities.

One example of research that hits close to home -- given the $3-plus gas prices -- can be found at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, where a group of students designed and built a lightweight, single-seat test car that won the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 2012 International Supermileage Challenge. The car went nearly 1,500 miles on a single gallon of gas. As you can see, the car was larger than a breadbox while weighing a scant 91 pounds, and its full throttle speed was just over 15 mph -- so in addition to saving on gas, you would also save on traffic tickets.

Another notable student achievement involves a very familiar face -- former Trustee Rodney Hughes, who served on this board as a graduate student from July 2008 until May of last year. Rodney, a doctoral candidate in the higher education program, received a prestigious dissertation grant from the National Science Foundation to support his research on one of the hottest topics in higher education: tuition pricing, admissions and student outcomes. Rodney’s background in economics combined with his intelligence, work ethic and the insights gained serving on this board should help him make a significant contributions to institutional research on admissions and outcomes in the United States.

I’d like to share one other research award today, and that comes from the Eberly College of Science. Anton Nekrutenko, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded a $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to expand Galaxy, the biomedical analysis software he co-developed at Penn State in 2005. Galaxy is an open-source, web-based platform that makes cutting-edge research and large quantities of scientific data available to clinical researchers around the world. By enabling researchers to freely exchange information and to collaborate more effectively, Dr. Nekrutenko’s project will continue to have an important effect on public health.

Improving public health is central to the mission of the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and this spring it received some well-deserved recognition.

In U.S. News & World Report rankings, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital was ranked among the nation’s best in three specialties: orthopedics, cancer and endocrinology. The Children’s Hospital ranked in two specialties last year and first made the Best Children’s Hospitals list in 2008. The Health Rankings Editor at U.S. News & World Report noted, “Penn State Hershey has a reservoir of dedication and expertise that helps the sickest kids. Our goal at U.S. News is to identify and call attention to pediatric centers like this one.”

Congratulations go to Hal Paz, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center CEO, senior vice president for health affairs, and dean of the Penn State College of Medicine, for this high praise, along with the fact that he has collected some recognition of his own. Hal was named to Becker’s Hospital Review’s recently released list of 100 Physician Leaders of Hospitals and Health Systems, which features some of the top physician leaders in healthcare. Thank you Hal for your leadership, dedication to the medical profession, and your commitment to patients.

While we always enjoy our success in rankings, we’re also watching other indicators that help us determine how well we’re reaching our goals of preparing educated and well-trained individuals who are able to succeed in the world. These include: job placement and satisfaction for our graduates as well as alumni loyalty and support, and in these areas I also have some good news.

This spring we saw an increase in the number of organizations attending our Spring Career Days, and that trend is continuing for Penn State’s Fall Career Days. To date, the number of organizations registered represents a 9 percent increase over this time last year. Our students take these career days very seriously -- getting haircuts and changing their flip flops for real shoes for the occasion to interview for full-time jobs, as well as internships and co-op opportunities.

Since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, Penn State has been a leader in producing graduates interested in serving others. That tradition continues and this year, a record number of our graduates will join the Teach for America program. At least 70 students signed up to help expand educational opportunities for elementary and secondary students in low-income areas. According to a Teach for America representative, Penn State students tend to be very well-suited for Teach for America, and many alumni have gone on to join the corps in the past. I’m proud that so many Penn Staters have chosen to contribute their talent and intelligence to service, while enhancing their own skills and opportunities.

Another indicator we like to check on periodically is our connection to alumni. I’m happy to report that record numbers of alumni -- young and old-- are staying in touch with us through the Penn State Alumni Association. At the close of this past fiscal year, the Penn State’s Alumni Association’s annual snapshot of membership numbers showed a 2.4 percent growth over the previous year, increasing to nearly 170,000. As you may know, this makes it the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world.

We also have some of the most generous alumni and friends as well…especially this year. Peter Tombros, chair of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, will give you a full report of our fundraising activities later this afternoon, so I’ll simply express our gratitude to those who have helped us reach the second highest gift total in history and set a new record for number of gifts.

Please join me in recognizing the outstanding efforts of Peter Tombros, Rod Kirsch, our senior vice president for development and alumni relations, and his staff for their tireless work on behalf of Penn State.

I now want to turn your attention to what has been described as “an athlete’s ultimate test of their worth” -- the Olympics. Nineteen Penn Staters will be heading to London to represent countries including the United States, Great Britain, Israel, Mexico, Canada, Suriname and Puerto Rico.

They’ll be competing in sports including volleyball, gymnastics, track & field, women’s rowing, fencing, women’s soccer and cycling. Many of the Olympic competitors are recent graduates, but four are current students and one is a Penn State volunteer coach for track and field. Bobby Lea, who will be competing in cycling, graduated from Penn State Lehigh Valley. We’ll be following the athletes on Penn State Live and through the Intercollegiate Athletics site, so I urge you to watch for and cheer on your fellow Penn Staters.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment for a special recognition.

Later today, the Board of Trustees will vote on a resolution to recognize Lloyd and Dottie Huck for their years of service and philanthropy to Penn State by naming the Life Sciences Building on the University Park campus in their honor. I’d like to take a few minutes to share just a little of their Penn State story.

Lloyd and Dottie met as undergraduates at the University, and their commitment to their alma mater has continued to grow over the decades. Lloyd has chaired the University’s Board of Trustees and served as president of the Penn State Alumni Association, and they have both been leaders in our development efforts. The Hucks’ own philanthropy has been visionary, allowing the University to become a pioneer in important emerging disciplines.

In the early 1980s, Lloyd and Dottie invested in Penn State’s early biotechnology efforts, and they helped to create the University’s first home for the life sciences with their gift to the Wartik Building. They have supported the University’s faculty, students, and research initiatives in fields ranging from molecular biology to nutrition, and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences were named in their honor in 2002.

The naming of the J. Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Life Sciences Building will create a visible reminder in the heart of the University Park campus that Penn State’s achievements in the life sciences and many other fields would not be possible without these two remarkable alumni. Lloyd and Dottie couldn’t be here today but we’ll have a chance to recognize them in the future.

Now I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Last Updated July 13, 2012