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Penn State Board of Trustees Candidates Make Their Case

by on March 31, 2014 6:30 AM

As the election approaches for three seats on the Penn State Board of Trustees, StateCollege.com is highlighting each candidate over the course of five days.

There are 31 candidates seeking three vacant seats on the board. Voting begins April 10. Winners will be announced May 9.

StateCollege.com contacted each candidate requesting a response to two open-ended questions with a 250 word limit to each question. Candidates are featured in alphabetical order.

This is the first installment.

H. Jesse Arnelle, '55, '62 JD, Lib, LAW, attorney, San Francisco, Calif.

Candidate withdrew from race.

Ricardo Azziz, '81, MED, president, Georgia Regents University; CEO, Georgia Regents Health System, Augusta, Ga.

List your top three priorities if elected, or re-elected, to the board and explain why they would be your priorities.

Ensure that the great education and career value that Penn State offers to students and their parents is clearly and broadly recognized. The increasingly competitive higher education landscape, including competition for decreasing state dollars and the rise of online and for profit institutions, represent a clear threat to the university's stability and competitiveness.

Work to restore our sense of tradition and history, while ensuring that we maintain appropriate respect and concern for all those individuals affected by the Sandusky tragedy. This should include reinstating the statue of Joe Paterno at Beaver stadium, This is a critical step for healing to occur at Penn State and in our broader university community.

Ensure the university's continued fiscal stability. Penn State, as global research university, faces major fiscal challenges including the need to develop its innovation engine further in the face of declining federal support for research; the need to increase student access and affordability in the face of continuing decline in already small state support, the added cost of further developing the necessary technologic infrastructure to meet current and future student needs, and a limitation on continued tuition increases; and the need to continue to develop a strong philanthropic base in a competitive and now strained environment.

There are 31 candidates vying for three seats on the board, explain what makes you the most qualified candidate?

Undoubtedly all 32 candidates are passionate and resolute, as I am, in their desire to assist Penn State and its Board of Trustees in healing the university's community and in enhancing the university's continued success. However, few of the candidates have my extensive capability in ensuring student value and university success. My experience as a long-time professor, educator, and researcher, and my current experience as university president and CEO of our health system provide me with unique skills that will be of great value to the university community and to the Penn State Board of Trustees as we work hard to ensure the success of our great university. Few, if any of my fellow candidates can offer such a broad, deep and relevant skill set.

Visit the candidate's Facebook page HERE.

Ryan Bagwell, '02, A&A, Com, web developer, Middleton, Wis.

List your top three priorities if elected, or re-elected, to the board and explain why they would be your priorities.

Distrust of Penn State's leaders is as low as it has ever been. A recent alumni association survey revealed that only 16 percent of Penn State graduates trust the Board of Trustees. Penn Staters are yearning for new leaders who will reunite our divided community - even while it continues to move forward on its own.

If elected, I will immediately press for the release of Freeh's investigation records, review every document to gauge the accuracy of his conclusions and present my findings to the public so we can finally move on.

But we cannot focus on the past forever. Other challenges beg for our attention, including record tuition that is too expensive for even the most committed Penn Staters. We should immediately rethink the way we set the price of a Penn State degree by providing discounts for alumni and need-based tuition credits. As a trustee, I would push to expand the university's private loan program and lower its 6 percent interest rate. I would also begin working toward a long-term goal of providing a free education for students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year.

To restore trust, I would expand board ethics rules by requiring trustees to file annual financial disclosure forms, and remove regulations that prohibit board members from engaging in free, robust debate. And finally, I support honoring Joe Paterno for his decades of service to Penn State.

There are 31 candidates vying for three seats on the board, explain what makes you the most qualified candidate?

The record low trust of the Board of Trustees hasn't budged since the Sandusky scandal. Alumni want a more ethical, honest and trustworthy Board of Trustees. My accomplishments over the two three years make me uniquely qualified to deliver the changes that we demand.

In March last year, I played a key role in forcing the university to release its contract with Louis J. Freeh. In July, I restored your right to obtain records of some trustees by winning a key Commonwealth Court case. And just a few weeks ago, I was responsible for the university's decision to release conflict of interest disclosure forms submitted by board members.

As the founder of the Penn State Sunshine Fund, I have been at the forefront of the effort to provide information about what went on behind the scenes of the Sandusky scandal. But there are limits to what can be accomplished from the outside. My record of action over the last two years proves that nobody will work harder to increase transparency, lower tuition and represent alumni interests on the Board of Trustees.

Visit the candidate's webpage HERE.

Keith Bierly, '77, Lib, owner, Twin Avenues Consulting & Forefathers Book Shop, Rebersburg, Pa.

List your top three priorities if elected, or re-elected, to the board and explain why they would be your priorities.

RESTORING PENN STATE'S NATIONAL REPUTATION is my top priority. In my business, I travel throughout seven states in the Mid-Atlantic region and our great University has taken a significant hit in recent years. The University needs to push forward on academics, research and philanthropy, the core reasons for our greatness. The significant number of legal cases will conclude at some point in time; in the interim we need to be diligent and focused on why Penn State's faculty and students can lead the nation in many endeavors.

IMPROVING THE UNIVERSITY'S FINANCIAL CONDITION is my second priority. I would advocate for another $100 million in the state appropriation coupled with a significant increase in federal research dollars. This combination can keep tuition at a reasonable level. That state appropriation means hundreds of millions in spin-off dollars recycled into the Pennsylvania economy. The federal research dollars lead to new business and industry that help resolve national issues while positively impacting the local economy. My seven years experience in Harrisburg would help me effectively lobby the state legislature.

Finally, a SAFE AND SECURE CAMPUS ENVIRONMENT is essential for our students, faculty, staff, local residents and visitors. Our students deserve a campus environment where they need not fear for their personal safety. Parents should be reassured that their children are attending a University with the safest possible environment. This environment is created by working closely with local governments and law enforcement officials. My experience as a District Judge would help me lead this effort.

There are 31 candidates vying for three seats on the board, explain what makes you the most qualified candidate?

My QUALIFICATIONS are clearly the MOST UNIQUE, and I will let the Alumni voters decide if that makes me among the MOST QUALIFIED. A life-long resident of Centre County, not a single candidate has had my interaction with Penn State. Twenty-eight years as a local elected official, as a District Judge and County Commissioner, my focus was often on the University.

I was the first District Judge in Pennsylvania to establish two offices, the second located in State College to specifically deal with the large caseload. In this capacity, I worked closely with the State College area police departments, including the University police. I understand the legal process, due process, and how our court system operates. My Master's Degree is in Constitutional Law from Penn State.

As a County Commissioner, I spent considerable time in Old Main and other University facilities working on tax issues, economic development, tourism, planning, emergency management, and other serious issues. After 12 years as a District Judge, 12 years as a County Commissioner, more than 12,000 Centre Countians endorsed my candidacy by electing me to a 4th term.

I spent 7 years as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board as the day-to-day administrator of the agency regulating the dairy industry, the largest component of Pennsylvania's largest industry - agriculture. In this capacity, I represented more than 12 million Pennsylvanians daily. As a veteran government worker, my knowledge of Penn State is considerable. I firmly believe I will ADD VALUE TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES.

Visit the candidate's webpage HERE.

Jennifer E. Bird-Pollan, '99, Lib, assistant professor of law, University of Kentucky College of Law, Lexington, Ky.

List your top three priorities if elected, or re-elected, to the board and explain why they would be your priorities.

1. The Board must listen and respond to the needs of Penn State's faculty and students. The university's primary mission is the education of young Pennsylvanians, and the Board's number one priority must be doing all that it can to make sure that, in a time of increasing financial hardship, that education does not suffer. The faculty and students are in the best position to inform the Board about the immediate needs of the university, and since there are currently no student or faculty Board members, I would make it a priority to make myself available to them.

2. Penn State must remain an affordable option for Pennsylvania's best and brightest high schoolers. The Board must ensure that the university does not raise funds on the backs of the students, through regular and significant tuition increases. Economic difficulties may well mean shared sacrifice, but that sacrifice should not be borne disproportionately by Penn State's students. I would fight to keep tuition reasonable, and help the university find additional funding through alternate means.

3. The Board should not be a closed institution, hidden from view and inaccessible to all but a privileged few. I would work to make the activities of the Board open and visible to all, and would strive to make the Board a servant of the institution. Service as a Trustee should not be a means to a personal end, and alumni members of the Board should be true representatives of the alumni they serve.

There are 31 candidates vying for three seats on the board, explain what makes you the most qualified candidate?

The current Alumni members of the Board of Trustees and many of the candidates on this year's ballot fail to reflect the Penn State alumni they ostensibly represent. While 46 percent of the Penn State student body is women, only two women currently serve as alumni Trustees on the Board.

A number of both existing Alumni Trustees and candidates in this election have long-standing ties to other Board members or Penn State administrators. I would bring an independent, objective perspective to the Board. Like many of you, I was not a Penn State athlete, and do not hold season football tickets. My love of Penn State does not stem from its football team, and, for me, Penn State is not primarily about sports.

As a Trustee, I will be first and foremost concerned with Penn State's academic future, and with protecting the interests of the faculty and students. I represent the majority of Penn State alums – people who value the university for the incredible education it gave us, and who want to preserve its glory for generations to come.

In addition, I bring to the Board my expertise in non-profit tax law, including the ability to assess technical financial material and transactions, which the Board must review as part of its oversight responsibilities. In the face of increasingly trying financial times, Board members must be independent, educated minds leading the University forward in its academic mission.

Visit the candidate's Facebook page HERE.

Robert J. Bowsher, '86, Bus, writer and accountant, San Diego, Calif.

List your top three priorities if elected, or re-elected, to the board and explain why they would be your priorities.

Fellow Penn Staters, we're not the character Chip in the movie Animal House, eager to assume the position and yell, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?!" WE ARE the Penn State community and, as incumbent trustees and the NCAA learned, we're a force to be reckoned with now and forever.

We will not stand idly by while the Freeh Report's accusations desecrate Penn State's good name, while legendary coaches are denied due process, while faculty and staff fear for their jobs, and certainly not while tuition hikes bury students and parents under mountains of debt. No Thank You, Sir...We're Not Taking Another!

Elect me and I'll do to the Board of Trustees what I did to my own life: make it open and transparent. We must loosen the stranglehold the Business & Industry trustees have on our great university and replace it with a model of open governance.

I'll also rein in wasteful spending. From the Freeh Report to the "Penn State Lives Here" campaign, the trustees have wasted precious dollars on out-of-state consultants and public relations firms. Those millions need to be redirected into programs that reduce tuitions and that directly benefit our community.

Making Penn State a better workplace will be my third top priority. The firings of legendary coaches Joe Paterno and Emmanuil Kaidanov sent the wrong message to our talented faculty and staff. It's time for a community-oriented work environment to rise again on the Penn State campuses.

There are 31 candidates vying for three seats on the board, explain what makes you the most qualified candidate?

Throughout my life, I have been a team player on all levels for many successful groups. From worker bee to middle manager to team leader, I have contributed all of my talents and skills to making team after team stronger, and that's exactly what I'll do as a trustee.

Some people are big talkers. I'm a big 6'6" listener. Instead of one big mouth, I have two big ears I lend to people all the time. Elect me and I'll make sure those ears are always available to you and anyone else who wants to join our efforts.

I also pledge to do as a trustee what I've done throughout my adulthood: spend money wisely. I've been an authorized check signer for three entities, including my current employer, because people trust me with their money.

And I'm just like so many of you: a diehard Penn Stater who wants to help our great university reach the end of this terrible storm that began in November 2011. You can count on me to protect Penn State's good name when people are attacking our school's integrity and reputation, even if one of those people is a former FBI Director.

Elect me so I can join the other alumni trustees in their team efforts to reform the Board of Trustees. I stand tall, and I stand ready to serve you and Penn State.

Visit the candidate's webpage HERE.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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