PhillyDeals: Business leaders vying to be Penn State trustees

Albert Lord, the ex-Sallie Mae chair running to be a Penn State trustee, has a lot of company.
Albert Lord, the ex-Sallie Mae chair running to be a Penn State trustee, has a lot of company. (Bloomberg)
Posted: March 24, 2014

Since I wrote about ex- Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord running as an extra-qualified Penn State alumni trustee candidate - who better than a guy who tamed Washington and Wall Street while collecting America's tuition for 30 years? - I've heard from other business leaders hunting for seats in the balloting from April 10 to May 9.

Lord was endorsed last week by Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship (PS4RS), which elected trustees the last two years on a platform objecting that the board copped too easily in the 2011 Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal to the stern criticisms of the Louis Freeh report, the costly NCAA sanctions, and the de-sanctification of the late football coach Joe Paterno.

Also favored by PS4RS are ex-State Sen. Robert Jubelirer and St. John's University prof Alice Pope.

Against them - among others - is the Upward State slate, backed by insiders, including three past heads of the Penn State alumni association. (Which made $30 million in 1994-2010 selling alumni addresses to a credit card bank where Freeh was a boss. Small world.)

Upward State nominee Julie McHugh, who recently stepped down as chief operating officer at what is now Endo International, said her group is "trying to represent a more positive point of view" than the "backward-looking" PS4RS. She's running with Hilton Worldwide hiring chief Matt Schuyler and PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant Dan Cocco.

What do they want? More taxpayer aid, for one thing: State subsidies have been going "the wrong direction." College aid offers "a pretty solid return on investment" by the public, McHugh told me.

Could online classes cut expenses? They should supplement, not replace, classrooms, McHugh says - though she'll support "restructuring" if new Penn State president Eric J. Barron recommends it.

How's the endowment? McHugh says she's looking forward to learning more about that. She hopes more will go to student aid, not just buildings named for donors.

(Penn State says it has increased "transparency" - but the university still doesn't disclose how each hired money manager performs, or what it pays them - data routinely reported by the state employees' and teachers' retirement systems.)

Joel Myers, Ph.D., founder and boss at AccuWeather, is the only alumni trustee seeking reelection. Just like Lord, he's a Philly boy and public-school grad who attended Penn State Abington and the Main Campus. Then he became a prof, stayed 20 years while building his business, quit in 1981 to run it, ran for the board, and was reelected to 10 more three-year terms.

If Penn State needed fixing, wasn't Myers part of the problem? "I've always been a reformer," he told me. "I pushed for changes in the right direction in 2003. They were not adopted."

Why wasn't he more effective? Too much confidence in the boss: " Graham Spanier was considered one of the top two or three university presidents" by his peers. "But he probably had more authority than he should have."

Did the board go too far? "People don't realize" the threat to funding, accreditation, survival, Myers said. He admits "there were problems here, and they emanated from the football area." But "do we want to look back and keep figuring out what we did right and what we did wrong? Or do we want to look at the future?"

Sounds like Upward State. "I agree with virtually everything they say," Myers told me. "But people I trust think I should serve another three years, because of the active role I play, the institutional knowledge, and the fact so many board members are new."

I asked alumni trustee Ira Lubert, a Philadelphia investor (Penn State is a client), why he's not running again. "It's time for new blood on the Penn State board - on any board," he told me. "That's why I got off, after 10 years."



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