PhillyDeals: Alumnus hopes to turn Penn State around

Albert Lord, retired Sallie Mae CEO, is seeking a PSU board seat.
Albert Lord, retired Sallie Mae CEO, is seeking a PSU board seat.
Posted: February 04, 2014

Albert Lord, the retired Sallie Mae CEO who loved Penn State so much he gave the Abington campus $5 million, has made the university his next career. He quickly raised enough alumni signatures last week to run for the university board. If elected, he plans a leading part.

Like the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship group, Lord blasts both the Freeh report - which blamed top Pennsylvania State University officials and the school's sports culture for failing to stop child rapes by ex-football assistant Jerry Sandusky - and the trustees he says too-quickly accepted Louis Freeh's findings.

Blame-sharing has crippled Penn State, driving away donors and academics, says Lord. The school should have waited until criminal cases against ex-president Graham Spanier and two aides were resolved, he says, before holding them responsible. Lord supports Spanier and company. He expects they'll be cleared.

Fixing Penn State's reputation, so it can attract top scholars and dollars, would help stagnating Pennsylvania regain its lost status as a leading state, Lord adds.

The board - not the alumni insurgents, but the majority appointed by the governor, business, and farm groups - has done too little; Penn State deserves the kind of nationally prominent, decisive trustees who elevated the University of Pennsylvania and other first-rate schools, Lord concludes.

Early in Gov. Corbett's term, Lord says, he asked to be one of the governor's reps on Penn State's board - right after he offered the pro-private-sector governor $400 million to sell the state's PHEAA student-loan arm to Sallie Mae (which Corbett declined).

Lord says Corbett admitted the Freeh report was incomplete. "I said, 'Are you going to complete it?' He said, 'It's up to the board.' I said, 'I'm willing to help you. I'd like you to appoint me to the board.' He wouldn't."

Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni told me Corbett had to review "several candidates easily as qualified." Why not Lord? He wouldn't say.

So Lord, a Republican with vast political and corporate-boardroom combat experience, looked to Corbett's Democratic rivals. Through contacts in Wilkes-Barre, where Lord moved hundreds of Sallie Mae jobs from India, he met State Treasurer Rob McCord. Lord says he's backing McCord's bid for governor "because he understands business" and looks like the kind of forward-looking governor who will upgrade Penn State's somnolent trustees.

What about business people already on the board? I asked Keith Eckel, the upstate farmer (and chairman of the giant Nationwide insurance group, though his Penn State resume doesn't say so), who heads the board's Governance Committee.

"I'm not naive to the fact we have been criticized," Eckel told me. "But the board, from a diverse-selection standpoint, is diverse, if you look at other land-grant universities and Pennsylvania state colleges."

Eckel knows there are reform plans afoot. He's supposed to review them. But "I absolutely believe the mix is right," he added. "I'm honestly telling you, the system has given us some very talented people."



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