Column | Upward State candidates ready to move onward

March 28, 2014 

Matt Schuyler

It has been only four weeks since I received the endorsement of Upward State in my bid for election to the Penn State board of trustees, along with candidates Dan Cocco and Julie McHugh.

Already we have had conversations with hundreds of current students and fellow alumni to better understand what Penn State issues are important to them.

The student conversations have been inspiring. They remind us why we are so proud to call ourselves Penn State alumni.

They bring me back to my days as a Lion Ambassador, when I was proud to walk backward, leading campus tours while telling the Penn State story to prospective students and their families.

Today’s students seem to universally embrace the Upward State platform focused on education affordability and academic excellence.

During a recent visit to the HUB, we heard that although many of today’s students lived through the Sandusky crisis in a very personal and painful way, they tell us they simply don’t think about it anymore. Instead, they say, they are focused on getting their degree, being involved in campus activities and figuring out what kind of lives they want to lead after graduation.

The alumni conversations have also been terrific, but are far more complicated.

Like the students, alumni want new trustees who can build strong relationships with government and who can work creatively with new president Eric Barron to ensure a Penn State education is affordable and accessible.

We’ve also learned that many alumni cannot emotionally allow themselves to have a conversation about the future of Penn State until they’ve had a chance to talk with us about the past. They want the three of us to hear their disbelief and disillusionment that the board was caught uninformed and off guard in November 2011 and made decisions that, in hindsight, they wished could have been different.

We hear them and agree with their assessment.

They want us to acknowledge how they and other alumni were left in the dark about why and how those board decisions were made because of a lack of clear communication. We do.

We are asked to acknowledge their anger over what they see as an inaccurate characterization of the Penn State culture by the Freeh report and inappropriate action by the NCAA that took advantage of the crisis and overstepped its bounds. We agree.

And alumni want to express their deep dissatisfaction with the way Joe Paterno was treated after 61 years of honorable service to the university.

Cocco, McHugh and I were proud to accept the Upward State endorsement because its platform calls for acknowledging Paterno’s role in building Penn State’s legacy of academic and athletic excellence.

Paterno was one of the reasons I chose to go to Penn State. Success with honor is real to me, and it is outrageous to think we should ignore the past.

If elected, Cocco, McHugh and I would look forward to finding the appropriate time and way to honor Paterno’s remark-able legacy.

We heard from alumni who are concerned about damage to Penn State’s brand.

Perhaps that’s due to negative media spin, because recent data contradict this view — admissions applications, enrollment and fundraising are up; our graduates are still sought by major employers; and our national and global rankings are stronger than ever.

Some have said Penn State is in a rapid descent to mediocrity. That’s just not supported by the facts. Our brand is strong and the future is bright.

Most alumni recognize why it’s important to elect future-focused trustees. They understand that, while we’re frustrated about what happened in 2011, we cannot live there. To do so would disrespect today’s students. And it would allow other universities to pass us by.

Cocco, McHugh and I offer Penn State alumni our seasoned judgment, a student perspective, conflict-resolution skills and experience with crisis management. And we have a strong commitment to transparency that would be abundantly evident from the moment we’re elected.

This year’s board of trustees election could be a pivotal point that leads us to a stronger future. Or it could be yet another year of a singular and demoralizing focus on past actions.

The three Upward State candidates hope our fellow alumni join us in choosing to surge ahead, ensuring a positive and brighter future for the Penn State we all love.

Matt Schuyler, of McLean, Va., is a 1987 graduate of Penn State, life member of the Penn State Alumni Association, a 2013 Alumni Fellow and the chief human resources officer for Hilton Worldwide.

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