Board of Trustees

Jennifer Bird-Pollan: Penn State Board of Trustees candidate

Biographical information

Lexington, Ky.

Age: 37

Education: B.A. French and philosophy, 1999, cum laude, with honors in philosophy; J.D., Harvard Law School, 2007; M.A., philosophy, Vanderbilt, 2012

Work: professor, University of Kentucky College of Law

Experience and activities: tax associate, Ropes & Gray, Boston; board of directors, Middlesex County Boys and Girls Club; vice president, Transylvania Park Neighborhood Association; executive board, Aylesford Place Neighborhood Association; Schreyer scholar; Phi Beta Kappa; philosophy department Shibley and Dotterer awards; Strasbourg, France, study abroad; student director, No Refund Theater; Renaissance Scholar; Schreyer summer volunteer abroad scholarship recipient

Please describe your motivations for running for the Board of Trustees.

I attribute much of my academic success to the solid foundation I received as an undergraduate at Penn State. For young Pennsylvanians, Penn State offers a world-class education at an affordable price. This critical role is the essence of what Penn State is, and it must be valued and protected. I know that there is much turmoil over the recent scandals surrounding the Penn State football program. However, my motivation to run for the board of trustees comes from a deep love of Penn State as an academic institution. As a professor at another large flagship institution, I believe I can bring special insight into the needs of public university students and faculty. Having been a part of a variety of institutes of higher education, I can bring the best of these universities to the table in the administration of Penn State. I want the world to see Penn State the way I do, as a collection of smart, motivated people looking to use their talents to make the world a better place.

What are the most important challenges ahead for Penn State, and if elected, how would you address them?

Public universities are facing shrinking state revenues and increasing concerns about student enrollments, especially in graduate degree programs. The current trend seems to be to think about the university as a business, and higher education as just one more industry. I object to this model. Penn State serves an important and singular purpose — the provision of affordable world-class education to young Pennsylvanians. If we think of Penn State as a business and we think of education as a product to be sold to students, we will diminish the value of Penn State’s important work, and will privilege cost-cutting measures that increase revenue. If elected I will use my role as Trustee to ensure Penn State’s continued affordability. This will require fighting to reduce the cost of administration, which is certain to be unpopular among Pennsylvania’s powerful leaders. As a true outsider, with no economic ties to Penn State’s leadership, I will stand for students, fighting to keep costs low and keep the quality Penn State education affordable.

If elected, what position would you support on the topic of Penn State board of trustees reform?

Academic administration is a difficult universe. It now seems clear that the board of trustees at Penn State was, for too long, the realm of a privileged few, who did not, on the whole, reflect the diversity of alumni of our great institution. The fact that most Trustees served on the board for decades at a time is at the heart of the problem. The new term limits imposed on Trustees is a great improvement in ensuring fresh perspectives will come to the board every year. However, I am disappointed to see that many of my fellow candidates have sought the endorsement of existing Trustees, or of organizations that propose voting for a slate of candidates in the election. Why do we need more of the same? Why must one be a powerful businessman or established Pennsylvania politician to serve our academic institution? I believe creating a diverse board that is more representative of our alumni will serve Penn State well in the future. I also support the creation of at least one seat on the board to represent current students, one seat for faculty, and one seat for staff. No one will be in a better position than those representatives to give the board insight into the state of the University.

If elected, what position would you support about Joe Paterno?

While I am grateful for the support that the Paterno family has provided to the educational mission of the university, I do not believe that the primary focus of the board of trustees should be centered on the football team. As a trustee, I would encourage the board to focus its attention on the academic mission of the University, not on Joe Paterno.

Is there anything else you want voters to know about you and your candidacy?

I entered this race in order to participate in a larger discussion about the future of Penn State and the role of the board of trustees in protecting Penn State’s educational mission. I encourage all interested alumni to consider how we can help young Pennsylvanians receive the same incredible education we received at a reasonable price. Thanks to you all for your participation in this important election.

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