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Letters to the Editor: I'm Running to Give Penn State Alumni a Referendum Question: Onward? Or Backward?

on February 19, 2014 5:45 PM

An Open Letter to my Fellow Penn State Alumni By Joel Myers

Many know me as a businessman, but at heart, I'm a weather forecaster. I've spent my life practicing the science of storms.

And so, as I announce to the Alumni of Penn State University my candidacy for election to a 12th and final three‐year term on the board of trustees, I do so fully aware of the turbulent weather ahead. There is a storm in some quarters against incumbents such as myself. I know this, because I already have been attacked with a negative ad campaign. I have decided to run anyway.

Why? Because, as one of the longest‐serving elected members of the board, and as one of its historic top vote‐getters, my candidacy somehow has become a referendum. I wish it were not so. But after much deliberation, I have opted to embrace that role not because I am likely to win, but rather because our alumni deserve a chance to speak to what I have come to believe is the central question before us: Do they believe, as I do, that it is time to surge ahead, toward a bright future, and out of the Sandusky darkness? Or do they support the group calling itself Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship (PS4RS), whose eyes seem to look only backward, using counter‐productive acrimony and recriminations to continue to churn our collective hurt?

Three years ago, in 2011, we all were hurt. Our beloved Penn State was struck by the storm of the century. The revelations that Jerry Sandusky was a child predator who had betrayed and brutalized so many children, rocked us to our very core, as did the criminal charges filed against our University's president and his top two aides.

The decisions of that turbulent time were gut‐wrenching.

Penn State leadership opted to accept some of the most heavy‐handed athletic sanctions ever imposed on a United States college or university. And Joe Paterno — the man who was the embodiment of the proud and virtuous Penn State brand — was abruptly removed as head football coach by the board of trustees.

The leaders of Penn State made decisions under extreme duress in those stormy days. Images of the victimized children were inescapably etched on all our minds. Public pressure from not only the NCAA, but law enforcement, accreditation agencies, and state and federal agencies endangered the very survival of the University. Decisive action was required.

We focused on what we believed was right. Penn State did not deflect blame and, in so doing, further punish those who had already been victimized. Instead, we accepted responsibility and strived to act accordingly. No organization is perfect, but we as Penn Staters can be proud of how our university has improved following those horrible revelations.

I did not agree with every decision. I spoke out strongly against the NCAA sanctions. And I acted in several ways to prevent the board from ratifying them. But, as a group, for better or worse, we made the best decisions we could.

For many alumni, those decisions were difficult but necessary acknowledgements of the university's responsibilities and obligations.

For other alumni, those same decisions were unforgiveable and there seems to be no convincing them otherwise.

I understand that reaction. I truly do. This was unprecedented and it was a matter of tremendous emotion for us all. There was no pathway out of those dark days that would have won universal support. Anger and antipathy were inevitable.

And that is why, though shocked, I was not surprised, when I woke up last November to find that a group called PS4RS had taken out a preemptive attack ad against me – before I had even decided whether or not to run for a final term!

Imagine volunteering to serve your alma mater, serving to the best of your ability, loyally and faithfully and always giving of your time and treasure — only to be attacked without warning in a public ad. It was not reflective of the Penn State I know.

The attack was unfair, as such campaign attacks usually are. It accused me of violating my own position on term limits. That is false.

Yes, it is true that I have been elected to the Board now for 33 years. And yes, it is true that I voted to adopt a policy of term limits and was proud to have done so. But what the attack ad ignored is the fact that the board, with expert input, purposefully decided to allow existing trustees such as myself to continue to serve, if we were re‐elected by you, until we reached those new term limits, regardless of how long we had served prior.

The expert input was logical. PSU is a vast and incredibly complex organization. It is the equivalent to a $5 billion dollar a year business, affecting the lives of almost 100,000 students a year. It takes years for trustees to learn the ropes. This policy was designed to make certain the board did not build a time bomb, where a huge swath of its board, and an even larger swath of its experience, would suddenly be required to depart all at once, depriving the alumni of the ability to choose, with their votes, to keep their experience on the board.

People could disagree about that policy, I suppose, but the PS4RS attack ad didn't seek any kind of honest debate. They just tried to make it look like I was a liar and a hypocrite. Again, not reflective of the Penn State I know.

This unprovoked attack made clear to me that my candidacy had become a symbol. I am one of three remaining alumni‐elected trustees who were on the board in the dark days of 2011. In my last election, I was the highest vote getter.

So, if the PS4RS group could use their attack ads to dissuade me from running, they would be well on their way to accomplishing their stated #1 goal, which is to remove and replace all the 2011 trustees. That is the heart and soul of their existence. If you were there, you must go. Period. No conversation. No debate. No exceptions.

Unfortunately, this approach is reflective of a vocal group of Penn Staters who passionately want to revisit and re‐litigate every decision of that difficult time. I understand that some people remain angry. But anger is not a plan. And catharsis is not a strategy. Continuing to focus our energies on the anger of the past is holding Penn State back from its future.

Instead of looking back, we should be celebrating the great new leaders who have come to Penn State to help move us forward — a widely admired new university president and an equally admired new head football coach, both of whom could have gone anywhere — but chose Penn State. They deserve a positive, forward‐looking community around them. Likewise, and even more so, we need to honor the students who have chosen to come here. We need to honor them with a strong university, one that is riding positive momentum forward, not one continually mired in recriminations.

My fellow alumni, you need to know that Penn State is back. We are knocking the cover off the ball. Applications for enrollment are up again, increasing a stunning 18%. We are ascending in the national rankings. Research funding is up at Penn State, even as other schools' funding declines. Our world‐class faculty is committed. And our athletic program is doing us proud, winning national championships the Penn State Way. But here is the truth: As long as we fight among ourselves, the world will pay more attention to our conflicts than they will to our accomplishments.

We need to champion those accomplishments and we need to focus on the future. We owe it to the people who have stayed with Penn State. We owe it to the people who have come to Penn State. And we owe it to ourselves. Because there are new storms ahead.

The higher‐education business model is under intense pressure. The cost of a college education is eclipsing families' ability to pay. Government funding will become less reliable. And digital technologies are beginning to turn the residential learning model on its head.

These are exactly the kind of storms and sea changes I have faced in business for 50 years. Strategizing to navigate change successfully is how I grew AccuWeather from a single‐employee State College weather forecaster, to the world's most trusted global weather company, serving 1 billion people — a leading employer still headquartered right here in State College, with multiple global offices and more to come.

Navigating change is what I have helped Penn State to do for 33 years. And those are the changes and vision that I am working hard to help focus the Administration and Board on now. And that will continue to be my focus if I am elected again. It's articulated on my website.

My candidacy is about surging ahead with a positive Penn State vision. The PS4RS group is about moving backward. Just look at their quote earlier this week, upon the news that we had named a great new Penn State president, Eric Barron. As the Penn State community was celebrating our new future, with the eyes of the nation upon us, here is what PS4RS had to say: ""We hope that he will immediately take steps to unify the entire Penn State community by correcting the errors made by the outgoing administration."

I could not disagree more. We won't find our future in the rear‐view mirror.

I am running to provide an alternative to PS4RS and its negative approach. I am running to offer a positive choice for those less vocal but still caring alumni who, like me, see an even brighter day ahead at Penn State, one that already is unfolding gloriously before us. All that is required to achieve it is for Penn Staters of good will to focus forward, unite, and to surge ahead.

If my fellow alumni allow me to serve one final term, I stand ready to bring all of my experience and Penn State passion to bear upon this quest.

Dr. Joel Myers, '61 BS, '63 MS, '71 PhD, is Founder and President of AccuWeather, headquartered in State College. His son, Daniel Myers is the owner of Lazerpro Digital Media Group, StateCollege.com's parent company.

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