Penn State Board of Trustees Election: Russell Larson Wants University's Glory Days to Return
This is the first in a series profiling one of the 86 candidates for the upcoming Board of Trustees election. Penn State alumni may vote online in the race between April 10 and May 3. The three winning candidates will be announced at the May 4 board meeting, and they will assume their new three-year terms on July 1.
A self-proclaimed townie, alumnus and No. 42 on the Board of Trustees ballot, Russell Larson wants glory days again for Penn State.
“I don’t want to go back to the past and recreate anything, but I want to get back to where Penn State is still viewed as one of the most admirable programs, really held in high esteem,” he said.
Larson received both his 1972 undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies and Political Science and his 1974 Master's Degree in Public Administration from Penn State. His father, also named Russell, was a professor of agriculture at Penn State before serving as a dean and later a provost to the university. And the Larson men are not alone in their Penn State experience.
“You name it, they’re all there,” he said of his family’s attendance at Penn State.
Larson said the board’s actions in November were a debacle, and now there is much repair to be done and questions to be answered. Penn State has taken a beating, and including the firing of Joe Paterno, it hasn’t been easy for him to watch.
“It’s very difficult to understand. I had very hard time wrapping my head around the issue,” Larson said. Yet despite what he called a horrible situation – encompassing all that has transpired in Centre County over the past months – the new board should be determined in its mission to make some serious changes moving forward.
“I know how boards work,” he added. “When you get as big as Penn State’s board is, you can’t get things done with 32 people yelling and screaming. First, it’s critical just to move on. Second is to make some decisions – Are we going to continue to be a land grant college?”
Larson became Controller General of Delaware in 1996, making him responsible for the state’s budget and capital spending bills, which includes the appropriating of funds to the University of Delaware and Delaware State. As a member of the Board of Trustees, he wants to tackle the ongoing budget crisis Penn State is facing – like the current 4 percent of its overall operational budget in funding it receives from the state.
"This comes from my line of work,” Larson said. “Delaware University is a land grant college and we’ve cut back funding to about 11 and 12 percent, which is very low but is nothing compared to Penn State. I think I have a lot of the whats, the whys and the hows to find out the answers.
“I am intimately aware of how the budget works at the state level. Education from kindergarten through college is very important. Every child in Pennsylvania should at least have that opportunity to at least try to get a degree in higher education, whether it is at the University Park campus or another.”
Already a homeowner in State College – Larson has thus far kept it for football weekends – retirement is on the horizon, and Larson said he would be able to direct his focus all toward Penn State. With the help of friends nearby, one sister in Erie and another in California, Larson has segued into the world of the online campaign. He runs a Facebook site that emphasizes his experience and commitment to Penn State.
No matter who is ultimately elected, Larson is looking forward to the Penn State ship sailing out of troubled waters and getting on the right course.
“There’s one thing that’s perfectly clear, and that’s just how great Penn State is as a school,” he said. “That’s a reputation I’d like to continue.”