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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Should Penn Staters Support The Rally In The Rotunda?

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of “Safeguarding Traditions Of Penn State,” which was the precursor to Safeguard Old State. It appears here for posterity.

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As we creep toward the 2007 “Rally In The Rotunda”, it seems an opportune time to examine the merits of Penn State’s ever greater demand for state appropriated funding. “Rally In The Rotunda”, the annual event sponsored by Penn State’s Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG), exists to “unify the voice of public higher education institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in an effort to secure a higher amount of state appropriations for all public higher education.”

While no firm date has yet been set for this year’s rally, it’s proponents have been noisy around the University Park campus as well as on the event’s official Facebook group, which exists as a meeting ground for those who support or are otherwise interest in attending the rally.

Certainly, there’s nothing to dispute about the fact that state appropriations don’t amount to as much as they used to for Penn State. Unfortunately, the annual “Rally In The Rotunda” may have gotten to the point where its intentions (for the good of our alma mater) are at odds with what’s best for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.

While Penn State undoubtedly deserves operational monies from the state – it is, after all, a state related institution – I’m not sure that it warrants the whopping roughly $360 million that Penn State administrators demand and for which their student facilitators in the form of “Rally” supporters plan to physically advocate.

The “Rally” group on Facebook includes a list of numerous statistics, including one citing that, “In ’70-’71, State Appropriations covered 62% of Penn State’s Operating Expenses Tuition. In ’05-’06, State Appropriations covered 31% of Penn State’s Operating Expenses.”

On their face, these numbers seem startling as apparently clear evidence of our legislature’s financial neglect of Penn State. Yet, the question rarely enters the consciousness of student-leaders at Penn State today over whether state appropriations were so severely cut or whether Penn State administrators are simply spending too much money.

Historically, state appropriations have been cut somewhat to most or all of the nation’s state or state related universities. Also historically, though, Penn State has undertaken costly campus expansion projects, needless construction projects, and other financial burdens.

At the same time that President Graham Spanier went on a building binge, the market price of building materials and labor increased. Coupled with the effects of regular employee benefits, Dr. Spanier’s freewheeling spending habits have put Penn State in nearly $1 billion dollars worth of debt, according to the Centre Daily Times.

So, while state appropriations lessened, Penn State administrators saw fit to spend more and more money, content to let others deal with the long-term financial fallout. Understanding this history illuminates many of the other statistics and facts presented by CCSG: “Penn State is the MOST expensive land grant university. Penn State has the HIGHEST tuition of all Big 10 Universities. Tuition increases now outpace the United States inflation rate.”

Why is Penn State the most expensive? Because our administrators have decided to put education and students on the back burner, instead deciding to build up the Penn State market brand by undertaking massive building campaigns. We suffer with the highest tuition of all Big Ten schools because our administration has, arguably, the least amount of accountability.

Why do tuition increases now outpace the United States inflation rate? Because, according to former Penn State spokesman Tysen Kendig, the administration spent tuition dollars not on education, but on their building projects.

And, as a result of all of these factors, we are led to another fact on the CCSG list: “Student debt at Penn State has increased to approximately $20,000, a number above the average of national student debt.”

Essentially, the effect of an unaccountable administration and a somewhat slackened state legislature has had a devastating impact on students. This leads me to believe that if we’re going to rally anywhere, our first priority should be here at University Park, on the steps of Old Main. Those inside are the reason we are so burdened, and why the state is increasingly reluctant to allocate whopping sums of money to an organization it cannot legally audit or otherwise hold accountable.

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