State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

When it Comes to Working Out, Locals Are on the Outside Looking In

by on August 26, 2014 7:05 AM

Penn State students are back and attending their second day of classes. Many of them also seem to be doing their best to ward off the impending freshman fifteen. Or the sophomore, junior or senior fifteen as the case may be.

As I jogged and biked around the area the last few days, there are many folks doing the same thing – jogging, biking and walking all around – especially on or near campus. And as I passed the IM building and Rec Hall I saw plenty of athletically-attired students heading inside.

I assume they're playing sports or working out. I assume that because – except for those students pedaling stationary bikes or jogging on treadmills in front of the windows – I'll never know.

You see, I don't work at the university. And I am not a student at the university. Which means that after decades of a happy town-and-gown athletic relationship where locals could make use of the university's "Recreational Facilities" – basketball courts and jogging tracks – we are now out in the proverbial cold. The signs on the door say it all – if you do not possess a University ID, you are not welcome anymore.

Well, here's what we know. The "You Must Have A University ID To Enter" policy (Policy AD73 for those playing along at home) is the result of the "Freeh Report" recommendations and isn't going to change anytime soon – if ever. Even though the recommendation was just to "evaluate security and access protocols for ... facilities and modify as necessary ...", the basic corporate instinct to legislate to the lowest common denominator kicked in and this policy came out.

And we know that it's a policy which, even if it had been in place for the last 20 years, wouldn't have changed anything since the individual responsible for the acts that led to the commissioning of said Report had an ID at the time and access to the buildings anyway. But in the new corporate-benchmarking world that the university has been forced to live in, it passes as good policy.

This despite there being a lack of "similarly situated institutions" the Report asks PSU be benchmarked against. Think about it. How many small towns in this country are as geographically-isolated from a major population center (1 million plus people), yet are home to a huge University (40,000 students)? If you come up with some, let me know.

Now, clearly these are the university's facilities. Who do we locals think we are to complain about this restriction anyway? Sure, we had a nice perk for a number of years, but this is the 21st century and Penn State has got to play like the big boys now. We don't pay for the buildings. We don't work there or attend school there -- so no admittance.

I will certainly agree that we don't work there or attend school there, but we do "pay" the university money in a roundabout way. You see, as a nonprofit the university pays no real estate taxes on its land or buildings. They do make a very small "in lieu of" payment that is dwarfed by the millions ($10, $20, $30?) they don't pay in taxes.

Because the university doesn't pay real estate taxes, the local governments and schools that usually survive on taxes from most of the real estate in their jurisdictions instead institute local income taxes. See where this is going? Your local income tax is money you're paying because the university isn't – which in a roundabout way means you're paying them. You can think of it as your gym membership!

Interestingly there's a new athletic sheriff in town, and her name is Sandy Barbour. Perhaps she has the desire to become a friend to the locals – to earn some goodwill as it were. She's already taken the de rigueur ice bath at the first athletic event of the fall season, and will likely be making many more appearances as the semester progresses.

Perhaps once she settles in, gets in the good graces of those signing the checks, collects a few chits, and has a good APR report or two under her belt, she might be willing to think outside the box a bit and look into the details of the recommendation – that it only states "... modify as necessary to provide reasonable protections for those using the facilities."

It doesn't say people outside the university can't use the facilities. It just says the university should provide reasonable protection. The question is how to let the locals in while doing that? Create a "Local ID" for residents. Or use drivers' licenses. Or get some of those Disney World finger-measuring devices. The bottom line is that a forward-thinking leader should come up with a way to return to the townies this one minor benefit to keep us non-Penn State ID'ers happy and healthy.

So c'mon Sandy, support the "Local" initiative, and bring that town-and-gown spirit back so we can all Return to Rec!

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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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