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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

Shared Governance: Spurring Change Within The Board of Trustees

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.


While the workload of a first year law student is daunting, STOP is a project in which I simply must take an active role. So I asked our director, Tom Shakely, if he would give me a column – hopefully to come out weekly. Although nearly all the other writers are (probably correctly) focusing on motivating students to rally around a new agenda of empowerment and participation, I hope to use this space to suggest concrete steps that can be taken by administrators and faculty which can aid students in sparking a “renaissance in student life”.

Blogger John Mayberry yesterday condemned Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Baldwin, the now ex-president of the Penn State Board of Trustees, for refusing to allow a group of students to speak against licensed apparel manufacturers’ labor practices, and I’d assume also for the unanimously approved $300 increase in the housing fees.

The average trustee would understandingly balk at Mayberry’s suggestion that students don’t have a seat at the table; after all, the USG President has usually had an opportunity to speak at meetings, and I’d assume this privilege will be extended to the UPUA President. And Galen Foulke was named to the Board by an appointment by Governor Rendell. So where do students get off saying that they are being ignored by the Board of Trustees?

When a student leader votes for a tremendous tuition or fee increase, we see betrayal. When a student leader votes for massive capital expansion projects, destined to increase tuition and cause disruption on campus, without the formality of explaining the need for the projects to students, we see corruption; oh sure, not “money in brown paper bags” corruption, but rather the sort of corruption that naturally flows from private tailgate parties, secret society meetings, and having a seat at the Big Kids table. And the problem doesn’t stem from betrayal of principle, for it’s difficult to identify the principles that Mr. Foulke and his ilk stood for, besides the wholesale annihilation of the pitiful vestiges of student autonomy. There’s no legacy here, besides one of sorrow and waste.

But the commenter has a point- student government has been inept. Student government at Penn State has recently done very little of consequence – and that’s by administrative design. Of course most of the time has been spent on unproductive infighting (although some administrators do not understand the basic difference between infighting and simple debate) and haggling over minor issues. That’s mainly because students have lacked the spine to demand and yes, deserve to be treated as the integral coequals in university governance that they have been and ought to be.

So my first suggestion to the Board of Trustees is to actively support legislation institutionalizing five seats to be held permanently by students: Student government (be it UPUA or USG) presidents, leaders of the assembly, UPAC chairmen, black caucus, College Republicans, whoever: But if they were not already, each should be popularly elected by the student body to two year terms. And each should serve side by side with the distinguished alumni, public officials, and business leaders who make up the Board.

When students have a say in their representation, and have real (not token) representation, they will have more invested and a better process through which to alert the Board to their concerns. And maybe students will persuade a few skeptical trustees that tuition shockingly doesn’t need to increase by six percent every year or that Spanier’s salary should routinely be disclosed. But I won’t hold my breath.

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What, no comments here? Was it THAT uninteresting?

andy — what you present is a kind of complicated false syllogism: You observe that all effective student leaders are not marginalized and from that come to the conclusion that if the student leaders at PSU are made so that they’re not marginalized, they will become effective. Logically, its the same as saying All birds can fly and are covered with feathers. If i cover myself with feathers, I will be a bird and will thus be able to fly.

The problem with this is that you want to put the cart before the horse. Give them more authority, you say, and they will no longer be ineffective, incompetant, or bought off. But thats not the way it works. Power is taken, not given. And until student leadership becomes effective enough to take back some measure of shared governance, they will continue to be marginalized.

The fact is, being marginalized isnt what made most of the student leadership at Penn State ineffective and allowed them to be bought off by the administration. When USGs final form came into being 35 years ago, the maount of shared governance was probably as high as it has ever been. It was ineffective and bought off leadership that squandered that power over many years. Like it or not, people like galen foulke have been the rule in USG, not the exception. Like it or not, USG produced far more galen foulkes, Kristin Kofmehls, and Justin Zartmans than it did Andy Banduccis or even Sean Clarks.

the first, most necessary step for PSU students is to get together and create institutions of student leadership work. That means institutions that provide a means for students to hold their leaders accountable for their actions and lack thereof. USG elections never did this. Just democratic elections alone arent enough to do this…. in USG theyre too often uncontested and very rarely issues based. UPAC never has either — there is no accountability and because of this it is inevitable that theyre going to be bought off by the administration.

If youre a friend of shared governance, foulke did you a favour. Because USG was doomed to continue to give away the students’ power, just as it had done almost non stop for the past ten years. The institution itself was flawed, and a flawed institution produces flawed leaders.

Once the institutions are there, they can attract and empower motivated and competant leaders. But until the advocates of shared governance stop trying to con themselves and everyone else into believing that USG and UPAC was something it was not, those instutitions will never come into being.

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