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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Penn State: University or Business?

Penn State University is a state-related, land-grant educational institution. It’s chief mission is to provide a high quality education to the lower and middle class sons and daughters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In recent years, plenty of critics have raised their voices in alarm at the path on which administrators under President Spanier have put all Penn Staters — current students and alumni alike. At a time when tuition costs could rise as much as 7-8 percent in a single year, a fundamental question arises that needs serious consideration among all campus leaders.

The Pennsylvania State University — is it a university, or a business? In other words, are our administrators and faculty operating with merely a business model in mind, or with the real purpose of a classical university in mind? A University education is supposed to be about more than filling students’ heads with facts and figures, but about molding young men and women into critical thinkers, responsible adults and Americans of ever greater ethical and moral fiber.

“The problem with the vast majority of administrators at Penn State is the application of market models where they don’t belong and the absence of them where they do belong,” a friend of Safeguard Old State recently confided in me. Todd A. Diacon, vice provost of academic operations at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, recently penned a revealing look at Inside Higher Ed on the gravely detrimental effects of the consumer market model being applied to higher education.

If this consumer market model problem is applied at Penn State as often as we believe it is (which the course of events under President Spanier’s administration would certainly seem to validate) then we need to begin to undertake a radical rethinking of how we can best achieve the core purpose of Penn State University, being a high quality affordable education.

We’ve asked the question before: Have Penn Staters become mere customers of a product the administration in pushing? Are we just numbers in the system, or will be truly be able to live the promise of our alma mater, that “thou didst mold us, dear old State.”

Last spring, when the Pennsylvania legislature announced its allocation to Penn State, President Spanier’s threat, right out of the gate, was that cuts would have to be made not to the bloated administrative apparatus within Old Main, but to Penn State’s agricultural research programs and academic unit — the very field of study for which the Farmer’s High School was founded so long ago in 1855.

Responsible administration of Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution would seem to dictate that when it comes “time to tighten the belt,” the academics would most certainly not be the first thing to be compromised. Perhaps, instead, one of President Spanier’s two private jets could have been sacrificed. Apparently, it was not to be.

Leading University administrators are beginning to speak out against the consumer market model being applied to higher education. Pennsylvanians and current undergraduates continue to struggle under the ever heavier burdens of tuition at Penn State. Yet, President Spanier himself have proven more comfortable with sacrificing academics than his bloated bureaucracy.

There can be any doubt, then, that “the problem with the vast majority of administrators at Penn State is the application of market models where they don’t belong and the absence of them where they do belong.”

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