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All-College Meeting Remarks: Fall 2012

The fall 2012 all-college meeting was held on August 23, following a different format than in previous years. More than 200 faculty and staff gathered at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, where the meeting included interactive sessions, introduction of new faculty and staff, remarks from Dean Korner, and a lunch-time presentation by Stephen Carpenter, professor of art education.

According to Dean Korner, she made a "slip of the tongue" at the end of her remarks that ultimately launched a faculty/staff campaign within the college. "At the end of my remarks, I told the story of a donor who committed $80,000 at a dinner in May to help us with scholarship needs. Through a slip of the tongue, I said, '$20 a year' instead of $20,000 a year. The crowd caught it and I corrected myself in the remarks. At the break, teasing me, about five people said, 'If it only takes $20 a year, I can do that!' When we came in after a break, I mentioned this and they all began to chuckle—seeing where I was going. One of our development staff jumped up and said, 'I’ll take names.' Needless to say, with my slip of the tongue, we now have a new idea for our faculty-staff campaign! We’ve met to work on getting this set up as a pitch for a minimal $2 a month paycheck deduction for our emergency scholarship fund."

Dean Korner's Remarks

Since 2000, it has been my pleasure every summer to co-direct with Mark Heckler, the president of Valparaiso University, a leadership institute for theatre department chairs and faculty in higher education. More than 250 people have been part of that three-day workshop that matches faculty with experienced mentors who have a long history as deans and department chairs. The major focus of the workshop is on the role each of us play as leaders no matter where we are in an organization. So, some theatre departments have sent a continuous stream of faculty members to that workshop realizing that faculty members are leaders in the shared governance context. 

Leadership, especially in the academy, is not dependent on administrative title. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” And whatever lies inside of you will reveal itself eventually in the way you treat others around you, whether you believe you are a “leader” or not.  

The basics of leadership are rooted in integrity, perseverance, and optimism. And these are characteristics that we can learn and foster within ourselves.  Leadership does not require a title, although it is very true that those who accept titles that include words such as supervisor, coordinator, director, dean, professor have a special responsibility for assuming and performing leadership roles in the academy. 

Although my framework today is a call to individual leadership, my responsibility as the dean of this college calls me to address some specific topics.  So, for the next few minutes, I’d like to address some issues that have been swirling around us and generated concerns for all of us, and then to share with you some of the strides we continue to make in achieving our overall mission to lead our students to become creative artists and innovative problem-solvers in their careers and life pursuits. 

Among the concerns from the news of the summer, the two main ones are budgetary and accreditation. Both at the college-level meetings, and I hope in your departmental meetings, we have worked consistently to help provide faculty and staff with an increasing understanding of the University’s budget—not by getting down in the weeds too much, but by helping you understand how the budget is set up, how increasingly dependent we are on tuition rather than state appropriations, and how it is only through permanent reductions (which Penn State refers to as annual “recycling”) that the University is able to pool monies together to create funds for salary increases, rising health care, and energy costs. 

Last year, after the dust settled on the governor’s proposal and legislative actions, and the University challenged the proposed 50 percent cut, we wound up with a 20 percent cut in our state appropriations. This year, which started July 1, the legislature rolled back the governor’s proposed 30 percent cut and kept us “flat” at last year’s levels. Nationally, if you look at trends in state appropriations for higher education, you will quickly see that “flat” is the new “up.” 

So, in that regard, we are holding our own. 

Meanwhile, we joined other universities in agreeing to hold our tuition increases as low as possible. We have reached a breaking point with tuition increases—and again, this is a national discussion. Penn State is one of the most expensive public institutions, neck and neck with University of Michigan for both out-of-state and in-state. Though there is variance based on major and educational level in-state undergraduate pay of more than $15,000 annually, out-of-state undergraduate tuition costs at least $28,000. 

You have also heard me say that of the other large land-grant universities where I have served, and others I’m familiar with through national conversations, Penn State’s more conservative approach and willingness to raise tuition has allowed this institution to smooth out the roller coaster ride of state appropriations and fluctuating budgets. 

Now, this assertion about Penn State’s effective budgeting process will meet a new test. There is much surmising in the press about how Penn State will absorb the NCAA fines and anticipated lawsuits. What impact will these have on our already-stretched academic budgets? Will our recycling amounts, which are usually within the 1 to 2 percent range, increase? 

The first test arrived this summer, with the flat state appropriations and minimal tuition increases. By careful budget modeling and a commitment to people, the university was able to proceed with a salary increase. You will soon be receiving personal notification about this raise. One point of clarification, that the department heads asked me to make: public notices will speak of a 3 percent pool, which will likely raise unrealistic expectations that every individual will receive a 3 percent raise.  Everyone who met or exceeded expectations in their performance review last year will receive a 1.5 percent salary increase. An additional one-half percent was made available for extraordinary merit—for a total of 2 percent. Therefore, the normal raises for those who met expectations and/or had something that warranted additional merit will be 1.5 to 2 percent salary increases. 

An additional 1 percent was made available to address equity or market issues. Keep in mind that any new positions hired in recent years, where we provided money within the college, do not have central funding. So we work to use the overall pool to help us address raises for those not covered centrally. The unit heads wanted me to clarify this for you so you realize that 1.5 percent is the expected baseline for those who are doing good work. Anything above that recognizes special merit or unaddressed inequities or market competition. 

As for the NCAA fines and anticipated civil lawsuits—Penn State is one of a handful of major universities where athletics truly pays their own way, where all athletic  programs are supported from a separate athletic budget. The fines will continue to come from football revenue, which will be down, though there will still be anticipated ticket sales and television revenues. We will not have any bowl game revenue for four years; however, it is important to realize that there are tremendous expenses incurred with bowl games, so the actual net revenue from post-season play is a minor part  of the overall revenue. The NCAA fines will be $12 million each year for five years for a total of $60 million—not $60 million all at once. At this point, if the football revenue will not adequately cover the fines in a given year, the University, from its reserves, will make an internal loan to athletics, which will be paid back. The reserves are just that—funds built up to cover extraordinary and unanticipated budgetary events—and they are only used for special circumstances. So, it is anticipated that the fines will not impact normal operating budgets. Most organizations plan some reserves and Penn State has managed its money well and now will call on those reserves. 

As for the lawsuits, we have multiple insurance policies for coverage. Though one company is suing to not pay, such suits are usual. It is my understanding that the company trying to avoid paying is one of oldest and smallest insurers, and its lawsuit is not likely to have an impact on the other policies we have. We are part of a pool of insurers that cover a coalition of major universities and it is appropriate to draw upon those insurance policies to cover the lawsuits involved.    

There is an understandable level of skepticism that we all have in the current environment. Assessing internal assurances in light of the rampant coverage of speculation in the press coverage and media blogs does cause anxiety. I keep reminding myself of Winston Churchill’s admonition that “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” 

As for the accreditation issue, many of us felt sideswiped by this. The national context may be helpful here. Regional accreditation agencies, and in particular secondary or professional accreditation agencies, have been under increasing pressure at the federal level—from Congress and the Department of Education—in the last ten to fifteen years. They are seen as being mostly supportive of the status quo and avoiding true accountability as defined by politicians. The focus on outcomes measured by accrediting associations, which we have all been dealing with in recent years, is one of the responses to this pressure. 

Governance, financial stability, and internal processes are the specific issues raised. I can only speak from my impression of the issues surrounding accreditation and this is not anything to be seen as part of the University’s official response. In light of the spotlight turned on Penn State, if Middle States ignored the accusations of the Freeh report, it would have added to the cynicism at the federal level about the impotence of accrediting bodies. Penn State has become a target for others' political gain that is hard to avoid. Having said that, even the Middle States has stated that this warning does not mean it is likely that Penn State will lose its accreditation—rather that Middle States cannot ignore these key accreditation issues and that Penn State must respond. Such words of caution from the agency itself, of course, does not sell headlines and so is buried well into any article about this matter. 

At the same time, given the stunning reaction of the NCAA, which subverted its own process, none of us are sanguine about this. The University takes the Middle States warning very seriously and anticipates addressing the questions thoroughly and satisfactorily. President Erickson’s long history with accrediting organizations will serve us well in this regard. The college has taken action to contact our own professional accrediting agencies and they have been reassuring. 

Our job as leaders, among one another and for our students, is to focus like a laser on our mission—to lead our students to become creative artists and innovative problem-solvers in their careers and life pursuits, while also sharing our research and creative accomplishments in increasingly prestigious venues.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the College of Arts and Architecture this spring, we have much to celebrate:

  • extraordinary strides in external research funding;
  • the creation of interdisciplinary places to play productively, such as StudioLab;
  • a continuing growth in faculty numbers and quality;
  • an alumni and donor base that provides exceptional support;
  • extraordinary strides in fundraising—from a goal of $58,000,000 five years ago to a total of $97,000,000 raised to date and another two years to reach our total goal of $100,000,000—with a concentrated focus on scholarships and an endowed professorship in each area.   

I have two stories I want to share in closing. In the midst of the recent press coverage, we have had several alumni and/or donors who have contacted us or who we have reached out to, who have told us they want to help tell the Penn State story. They want to get involved in ways they haven’t been before. They want to increase their financial support. They have reached out to encourage us in the midst of the headlines swirling around us all. It has been heartening.

Second story: Last May, during the meeting of our college-wide capital campaign committee, I stressed the need for increasing scholarships, explaining as often as I have the chance, how we recruit for talent on a national level and we compete with top universities for the top high school artists in the country. I was able to share some truly heartbreaking stories about students we lost and how their emotions played out on social media sites, as they shared their heartbreak at not being able to attend Penn State. One of the campaign committee members committed, overnight, to providing $20,000 annually for four years—a total of $80,000. His immediate and quick response helped us recruit five students that weekend that we would have lost. We are using his leadership to inspire and encourage others to provide such scholarship funds in the future. The support among alumni and donors encourages us through these difficult times. 

As we begin this new year, please consider what you can do to exert leadership among yourselves. As John Quincy Adams noted, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” There’s no higher aspiration for those of us in an institution of higher education. The key to reminding the world of what Penn State truly represents as an academic, research-intensive university lies within each one of us. More than ever, let us inspire one another and our students to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.