PSU is not get­ting the mes­sage

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - OPINION - Low­man Henry Low­man S. Henry Colum­nist Low­man S. Henry is chair­man & CEO of the Lin­coln In­sti­tute and host of the weekly Lin­coln Ra­dio Jour­nal.

There is no doubt that Penn State is one of the na­tion’s great uni­ver­si­ties. With a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion and grad­u­ates who have con­trib­uted greatly to lit­er­ally ev­ery as­pect of so­ci­ety, Penn State should be the com­mon­wealth’s shin­ing star.

Il­lus­tri­ous though it may be aca­dem­i­cally, Penn State’s ef­forts at self-gov­er­nance con­tinue to fall woe­fully short. The de­gree to which its gov­ern­ing cul­ture was cor­rupt burst into the pub­lic con­scious­ness dur­ing the Jerry San­dusky scan­dal. Years later the le­gal wran­gling over the man­ner in which Penn State’s ad­min­is­tra­tion botched its re­sponse to San­dusky’s depraved ac­tions con­tin­ues to gen­er­ate head­lines.

You would think the San­dusky scan­dal would have caused Penn State to clean up its act. De­spite tak­ing some steps — best de­scribed as pub­lic re­la­tions moves — it is clear the univer­sity has not made the struc­tural changes needed to bring about truly re­spon­si­ble gov­er­nance.

Penn State’s re­sis­tance to true re­form was brought to light re­cently by Penn­syl­va­nia Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eu­gene DePasquale who re­leased his first per­for­mance au­dit of the univer­sity. Re­sults of that au­dit are deeply dis­turb­ing and re­flect a gov­ern­ing cul­ture that re­mains in­su­lar, un­re­spon­sive and de­fen­sive.

Keep in mind that the tax­pay­ers of Penn­syl­va­nia spend hun­dreds of mil­lions an­nu­ally to sub­si­dize Penn State and the com­mon­wealth’s other state-re­lated uni­ver­si­ties. Like all such re­cip­i­ents of pub­lic largess, Penn State an­nu­ally lob­bies the state leg­is­la­ture for more and more money — while re­main­ing un­ac­count­able for what it al­ready re­ceives.

Un­ac­count­able be­cause, al­though it is sig­nif­i­cantly tax­payer funded, the univer­sity is not sub­ject to pro­vi­sions of the state’s Right-to-Know laws. Of­fi­cials serve up a lame ar­gu­ment that it is best for re­search and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties to be out­side the reach of that law. But, they are us­ing our money and law­mak­ers ought not give the univer­sity an­other cent un­til they are brought fully un­der the scope of Right-to-Know and Open Records laws.

DePasquale also hit upon an­other key point: the univer­sity’s Board of Trus­tees is too big and cum­ber­some and fails to give alumni proper rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In fact, the board re­in­forced its bunker men­tal­ity by ex­pand­ing its mem­ber­ship from 32 to 36, done to di­lute the in­flu­ence of the few alumni mem­bers who be­came more out­spo­ken in the wake of the San­dusky scan­dal.

Against this cul­tural back­drop of in­su­lar se­crecy an­other dis­turb­ing trend has de­vel­oped: fewer and fewer Penn­syl­va­ni­ans are be­ing ad­mit­ted to Penn State.

Ac­cord­ing to the au­di­tor gen­eral’s re­port, in the 1990-91 school year 76.5 per­cent of stu­dent’s in Happy Val­ley were Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dents. By the 2015-16 term the per­cent­age of in-state stu­dents had dropped to just 56.2 per­cent.

Pre­dictably, Penn State’s re­sponse was to blame the state Leg­is­la­ture for not giv­ing it enough money. Left un­said by the univer­sity’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was their own fail­ure to con­trol costs.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion at Penn State be­lieves it de­serves more of our tax dol­lars while ad­mit­ting fewer in-state stu­dents, re­fus­ing to be trans­par­ent de­spite re­ceiv­ing those dol­lars, and cling­ing to a gov­ern­ing cul­ture that re­sulted in one of the big­gest scan­dals ever to hit a Penn­syl­va­nia univer­sity.

DePasquale’s re­port should be yet an­other wake-up call to state leg­is­la­tors. Sim­ply re­new­ing Penn State’s an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pelling re­form is a dere­lic­tion of duty.

Law­mak­ers ought to set quo­tas for ad­mis­sion of in­state stu­dents en­sur­ing, as DePasquale put it Penn­syl­va­nia stu­dents are “win­ning tie-break­ers” in de­ter­min­ing ad­mis­sion.

The sit­u­a­tion at Penn State is, un­for­tu­nately re­flec­tive of the ed­u­ca­tion bu­reau­cracy at all lev­els in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Amid ar­gu­ments that “it’s for the kids” we pour mil­lions more ev­ery year into ed­u­ca­tion from pre-K to the univer­sity level with­out de­mand­ing ac­count­abil­ity in how that money is spent and re­quir­ing im­proved re­sults for the larger out­lay of cash.

The time has come to tie fu­ture ap­pro­pri­a­tions to ac­count­abil­ity and per­for­mance.

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