Trustee Joel Myers pledges harder push to promote positive Penn State image

mdawson@centredaily.comJuly 12, 2013 

— Penn State trustee Joel Myers said in a speech to the board’s outreach committee Thursday that the university will be more proactive in promoting a positive image of the university.

Myers took over as chairman of the committee. The full text of the speech he gave to the committee appears below:

"I am pleased to have this opportunity to chair this committee. Marianne Alexander is our new vice chair. Welcome to all. To the new trustees and new members to this committee — I am new to this committee as well and look forward to working with you all.

"As you will notice, Penn State is becoming more proactive and assertive in our communications. We have and will continue to tell the remarkable stories that represent the terrific things that have been happening at this great university. For too long, we have allowed the narrative to be defined by others. And in many instances, we have allowed false information and mischaracterizations to go unanswered and uncorrected. Our goal as a committee must be to seek to talk about the great things that are happening here at Penn State.

"In my view — we have two critical narratives to drive. These are our two communication imperatives over the next several months.

"First — as we know, we will begin to see a heightened level of conversation around the scandal in the months to come. There are the trials, the one-year anniversary of the Freeh report, lawsuits, and several other key events that will cause influencers at the national and local level to once again engage in discussions about the terrible events that occurred here.

"It is imperative that the talking heads, media outlets and the influencers that will drive those discussions have the proper context and insight to adequately represent how this board and the administration acted over the past 20 months.

"What we have been able to achieve to reform the way this university operates is nothing short of remarkable. We have not only completed 115 of the 119 recommendations as outlined in the Freeh report — we have also taken suggestions and implemented initiatives from several third parties like the auditor general and faculty members. We have made significant and real reforms in security, athletics, HR, compliance and governance. We have literally become a national model that other universities are seeking to follow.

"The second communication imperative is to celebrate that Penn State University is a great institution dedicated to educating our talented students, producing new knowledge through research, and helping our citizens through service and leadership.

"I would not have achieved what I have in life and in my business without the tremendous education, guidance and mentorship I have received from this university while a student. I have been uniquely blessed by this experience.

"It would be constructive if we all work to deliver a message about the very positive and great things that are happening at Penn State and that Penn State has done for so many.

"Keith (Masser, the board chairman) and I recently completed a speaking tour with The Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, a group of about 15 people at the ESPN headquarters in Connecticut, and about an hourlong telephone interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We made many points — including Penn State is a wonderful university with 96,000 students, 8,000 faculty, 24 campuses, a leading medical school and a strong law school. It is ranked in the top 10 for competitively earned research dollars — $808 million last year — and ranked in the company of other prestigious schools like MIT, Johns Hopkins and Stanford. This is a testimonial to the expertise, talent, and achievements of our faculty. This valuable research provides the learning laboratories for our graduate students and for tomorrow’s discoveries that enhance the lives of all Americans.

"Not many people realize that Penn State is the leader in business- and industry-sponsored research, receiving over $100 million in the past year, which ranks No. 1 ahead of every other college and university in the nation. I enjoy pointing out to reporters that these hard-earned dollars are obtained from business and industry and are spent in ways and places where businesses feel they can make a significant impact or they get a return in terms of valuable research results. The fact that Penn State university is No. 1 speaks volumes to the quality of the research that Penn State faculty and staff is able to produce year in and year out.

"The Wall Street Journal has ranked us as the No. 1 place for corporations to hire the best employees. What better testimonial to the students and the entire Penn State undergraduate experience than this statistic. Many of our undergraduates could have attended Ivy League schools, but came here to participate in undergraduate research.

"We are No. 7 in median starting salaries for our students, again, a measure of the value of a Penn State degree. This ranked higher than many Ivy League schools.

"In these press interviews, after reviewing all the points I just mentioned, I always asked the question of these reporters, “who do you think is No. 1 in prestigious Fulbright Awards? Is it Yale, is it Harvard, is it Princeton, is it Stanford?” Very few people get it right, and most are surprised to learn it is Penn State.

"Penn State is ranked No. 5 this year in the Learfield Sports Directory Cup, a measure of the performance of all the sports teams combined. Further, we have won eight Big Ten titles this year, 13 over the past two years.

"We also offer one of the top online educational opportunities in the country with our World Campus.

"On our beautiful campus, we see the new $100 million ice pavilion, the result of a generous gift for our ice hockey team, is nearing completion. A year or two ago we brought online the $240 mllion Millennium Science Building, a unique laboratory, allowing experimentation on materials at temperatures approaching absolute zero.

"We are No. 1 among U.S. universities in requests for enrollment applications.

"Of course, as all of us know, we have the largest dues paying alumni association in the United States and it continues to grow.

"We have by far the largest student-run philanthropy, Thon, which in itself creates great leaders mentored and aided by caring faculty and staff. These students are in great demand by business even before they graduate.

"Another bright spot: Donations and contributions were up substantially last year, and we are ahead of schedule in our ambitious campaign goal of raising $2 billion.

"In the area of university governance we are actively striving to be a national role model, just the opposite of what some critics are saying. We have established a model of university governance, athletic integrity, ethics, and moral standards. No one less than (former U.S.) Sen. (George) Mitchell, one of the most highly respected people in this country, who has been used by presidents as an ambassador of goodwill and negotiator for the United States of America, has said so in three consecutive reports. Further, we have achieved the most sweeping and positive changes in Penn State governance in over 100 years, perhaps ever. We now receive regular inquiries from universities around the country as to what we did and why and their acknowledgment that achieving so much progress in such a short period of time is extraordinary for an institution of higher learning. And improving our governance and oversight is still a work in progress.

"In our interview, Keith and I spoke further about student athletes, and we explained to ESPN, the AP and The Wall Street Journal that the Penn State football culture that we have been so proud of for decades is different from what has been misrepresented in the press and others.

“Many players who became collegiate All-Americans and NFL starters attempted to get into Penn State over the decades but could not meet our entrance requirements, and we have not wavered from maintaining those high standards. Our football lettermen can all attest to that. Then, when the qualified student athletes arrived on campus they had to take real courses, achieve real grades, and if they did not, they became ineligible to play and our lettermen will acknowledge that, too.

"Then Keith and I spoke about Coach (Bill) O’Brien, who has done an incredible job coming in as a first-year coach, being slapped with NCAA sanctions — and I have made no secret of the fact that I personally did and still do believe the harsh sanctions are unjustified and unfair — losing 15 football players recruited by other coaches on our campus, who even went so far as to harass our players coming from practice, which has always been the antithesis of what the NCAA had held up as proper behavior.

"In spite of all the NCAA did to Penn State, only 15 football players left the university. Texas took our kicker and USC took our top running back, but the loyal and determined players who remained and the extraordinary new coaching staff performed in a way that was the epitome of class and character, and I believe will long be remembered as one of the shining moments in college football lore. Sometimes the historical significance of what is occurring is not fully appreciated while it is happening. What we saw here was the true epitome of the ideal football culture and even the ideal athletic culture that should be the shining beacon on the hill for all teams to aspire to.

"Of course, the story of grit and determination goes well beyond the football field. There has been a recommitment by the faculty and the students to this university in the face of this ugly situation. If anything, the determination and loyalty has increased. There has been little faculty turnover and there have been very few students who have left. Admissions have been consistently high and alumni giving remains healthy. Many institutions might have circled the wagons or would have suffered grave setbacks, but the word ‘resilience’ is what stands out to describe how Penn State has performed and continues to move forward.

"Another example is in the area of sexual abuse — where we turned a terrible tragedy, to one where we are making a positive difference. I learned that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused in this country by the time they reach 18 years of age, so we took on sexual abuse as a campaign: raising awareness, educating, and holding conferences and inviting experts from all over the world — all to work to make a difference and reduce the sexual abuse epidemic — not to shove it under the rug — but to have a true impact on overcoming this terrible blight on civilization.

"And then sometimes we are asked about Coach (Joe) Paterno, and our response has been consistent, that we plan to honor the coach at the appropriate time, but I go on to point out that on the Penn State campus there is a large building at the center of campus that has the coach’s name on it. It is perhaps the only library in the country that bears the name of a football coach.

"Let me end by saying that for decades we have taken for granted the cheer “We are Penn State.” Yet I think there is a true meaning behind that. I heard another Penn Stater say recently that when you say ‘We Are’ you are not saying ‘I am.’

"Sometimes a tragedy can also spark a positive. I hope we can recognize that is happening here. We can and should all be Penn State proud."

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