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Penn College Board Meets; PSU President Spanier Speaks

The Board of Directors of Pennsylvania College of Technology met Thursday, Nov. 13, and discussed the process for selecting a new College president to replace Dr. Robert L. Breuder, who announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31.

The Board approved a motion to hire a search firm to assist in the process. Members suggested that a firm’s ability to network with and recruit top quality candidates would add value to the process and save time and resources internally. (Firms indicate the normal time period to conduct a presidential search is four to nine months; national averages, in terms of cost, were estimated at $120,000.)

After hearing presentations from two national search firms, the Board decided to seek to engage Heidrick and Struggles, of Washington, D.C. Plans are to receive a formal proposal from this firm at the Board’s Dec. 11 meeting. A Heidrick and Struggles representative indicated that the firm’s average total cost for a search is $80,000.)

As had been previously announced, Board Chairman Robert Dunham reiterated that the Board intends to involve faculty, staff, students and community leaders in the search process. He also indicated that internal candidates would be considered.

In a meeting with employees later in the afternoon, Penn State President Dr. Graham Spanier was asked about the status of naming a permanent replacement for Dr. Breuder. Dr. Spanier indicated that he expected the board would need six months to one year to complete the process; he added that he was very confident in the “excellent leadership” being provided by Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour and the Penn College executive staff during this interim period. He urged faculty and staff to “give her all the support you can” during the period of transition.

Spanier’s Visit
Dr. Spanier made a visit to the campus to assure employees that “Penn State continues to be very strongly committed … to the future viability of Penn College.” He added that Penn College is one of two Penn State entities (the other being the Great Valley Campus near Philadelphia) which have the greatest growth potential in the immediate future.

The Penn State chief noted that, in his frequent visits to the state capital, he sees that “state employment needs match what is happening at Penn College.”

His vision for Penn State is to be a leading university in the country, focused in three areas: teaching, research and service. “There is no place in the university family where this occurs in a more meaningful way than here at Penn College,” he said.

He cited continuing and distance education as providing opportunity for greater partnerships between Penn College and the rest of the university system. “I’d like to see the doors of opportunity open up,” he said. When asked to comment on the issue of duplication, he remarked that some duplication is necessary in order to serve local needs, but that students, faculty and staff should make decisions about partnerships that can benefit them.

“What you do here is needed not only in Williamsport, but throughout Pennsylvania,” he declared. He suggested that Penn College “use the Penn State network to deploy what you do” in order to increase our potential to reach every county and almost every home in the commonwealth. He also advised that we do a good job in community relations in order to make other colleges comfortable with partnerships we develop in their communities. “Make sure people understand what you are doing,” he urged.

When asked about rumors that Penn College is becoming “Penn State/Williamsport,” Dr. Spanier declared “There are absolutely no plans to make this Penn State/Williamsport … to impose upon Penn College some entirely different mission or structure. These are just rumors.” He added, “The transition in leadership here has nothing to do with some larger scheme.”

“The future … and what direction it does go … should be in the hands of faculty and staff here,” he suggested. “We don’t have a secret plan to come in here and change you.”

The president suggested that, in the future, “anything is possible” and that Penn College faculty and staff should ask themselves the question: “What do you think it should be? … Talk about what you want … I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about that … but I think you should.”

In fact, he suggested, change is taking place throughout the Penn State system, where colleges see opportunities to grow. “We’re not stuck in some kind of rut that says Penn State must stay the same as it has been for hundreds of year.”

When asked about the possibility of employee benefits being affected by the Penn State Geisinger Health System merger, Dr. Spanier – being reminded that the Penn College benefit package is separate from the university’s – responded, “We can talk about that … but we’re not going to impose it on you.”

When asked to comment on the state of fiscal affairs in Harrisburg (as they impact Penn College, Penn State and higher education), the president described the climate as “anti-tax, anti-spending.” He said they would love to see an “equalization” package that would bring Penn College’s share of state funding in line with other colleges, but that he does not expect it. The university, he said, will be asking for an 8.5 percent increase in the coming year 3.5 percent is needed to “stay even” with inflation.

A question regarding plans to expand campus and build more structures brought a response of caution from Dr. Spanier, who suggested that the College already has a “fairly high level of debt” when compared to others of its size and enrollment. “While you want to do a little risk taking … you need to be careful about it,” he said.

The Penn State leader also committed to helping Penn College secure private contributions and suggested that he is currently working on a project that could result in a portion of the gift coming to Williamsport. If the university identified appropriate donors, “We would send them your way,” he promised.

In closing, Dr. Spanier urged faculty and staff “to work openly and collaboratively with your administration… We can’t work in a ‘we’/’they’ atmosphere.” He also reminded the audience that he is accessible by e-mail for anyone who wishes to communicate directly with him at any time.

Other Board Action
In other action on Thursday, the Board approved a new assistant secretary for the Board. Valerie Baier, coordinator of educational services, was named to that position. In addition, the Board approved Alvin C. Bush, chairman emeritus, and Robert J. Meacham, executive assistant to the president, as members of the Community Arts Center Board; Robert G. Bowers, professor of mathematics; Grant M. Berry, vice president for development; Gilmour and James McMahon, controller, were named as alternates.

The Board also endorsed plans for improvements to the Campus View Apartments. In a presentation by Dr. William Martin, senior vice president, plans were announced to make renovations estimated at $1.5 million, bringing the total cost of the acquisition and renovation to $6.3 million or $18,750 per bed. By comparison, the per-bed cost of The Village at Penn College (for land acquisition and construction) was $30,000. Similar projects conducted recently at Penn State campuses in Erie and Altoona ranged in per-bed cost from $20,000 to $30,000.

Among the improvements planned at Campus View are fencing around the property, parking and lighting improvements, establishing controlled access through a centralized station, landscaping, replacing current masonry and wood-panel exterior with vinyl siding, and providing campus network (telephone and computer) access.

It was also announced that, at the December board meeting, architect Martin Murray would present designs for the gateway to campus, which is planned for the former PBI property. In addition, the College’s Facilities and Site Master Plan will be presented to the Board in December.

Gilmour presented the Board with a revised compilation of the Major Institutional Initiatives for 1997-98, to include the presidential search and the development of the former PBI/Campus View site. She also announced the establishment of a commission to develop a long-range plan for the College Library.

In closing, Chairman Dunham praised the interim chief operating officer and the executive staff for their “excellent” work during the transition period, which he described as “going very smoothly.”

The next meeting of the Board will be held on Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. At that time, in addition to agenda items focused on the presidential search and future construction, the Board will review a number of new policy revisions.

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