Our View | Penn State’s focus must be on students, not scoreboards

Should Penn State be spending $10 million on a spiffy new Beaver Stadium scoreboard in the midst of costly NCAA sanctions and while continuing to raise tuition for its students?

We question the decision to install a new scoreboard, approved at last week’s board of trustees meetings, where we also learned that Penn State would appease the State College community by spending another $10 million to shift a controversial natural gas pipeline onto campus, while costs tied to the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal reached nearly $47 million.

We wonder what the scoreboard decision says about the school’s priorities, despite the fact that $10 million is perhaps the equivalent of pocket change for a university that just approved a $4.42 billion 2013-14 budget. Of course, Penn State will borrow money from itself to pay for the project.

The new scoreboard will replace one that was installed during a Beaver Stadium upgrade in 2000. It will allow Penn State to have its logo displayed to those looking on from outside the stadium, much like the University of Michigan’s “M” at Michigan Stadium.

That is apparently a really important feature when a school is working to overcome the stigma of child abuse.

Ford Stryker, Penn State’s vice president for the physical plant, told the trustees the scoreboard to be replaced is like “a TV set that old — it doesn’t work so well.” The new stadium feature will bring enhanced high-definition video and improved sound.

We’re surprised Penn State thought this was the right time to take an expensive step toward enhancing its athletics brand, the stated goal with the scoreboard, given criticism hurled at the university during the Sandusky scandal. From the attorney general’s office to the Freeh report to the NCAA, Penn State was scolded for allowing protection of an athletics brand to become a higher priority than protecting vulnerable children.

Those same trustees meetings approved yet-another tuition hike — this one nearly 4 percent for students at University Park — helping Penn State keep pace with in-state rival Pitt as the most expensive public colleges in the nation. Penn State’s freshmen and sophomores will pay more than $8,000 per semester at the main campus this fall.

We struggle to justify that decision on the heels of an announcement that donors are giving at higher levels, despite the turmoil Penn State has endured. The university recently announced that its current campaign received $263.5 million in donations and pledges this year, thanks to more than 193,000 contributors including alumni, faculty, staff, corporations and other sources.

“Most universities would just love to have that kind of broad-based support,” said Rod Kirsch, the university’s senior vice president for development.

Penn State has hit $1.85 billion on the way to $2 billion in this latest fundraising effort — ironically dubbed “For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students.”

Kirsch said the campaign has put $400 million toward student scholarships.

That’s nice, but we would like to see Penn State do more to bring down costs for all students.

That might require a shift in focus for the board of trustees, which has welcomed several new members but which has lost sight of its most important task: the management of costs and academic offerings for the 42,000 students at University Park and 90,000 across the system.

There is much more to be done beyond complaining about the Freeh findings, the NCAA sanctions and perceived unfair decisions concerning the late Joe Paterno.

Penn State is paying a $60 million fine tied to the NCAA and will also pay upwards of $60 million in settlements with Sandusky’s victims. Overall, costs related to the scandal are expected to surpass $150 million, as Penn State pays off its lawyers and public relations firms.

But that doesn’t mean it’s no big deal to spend another $10 million on a new scoreboard at Beaver Stadium.

The university and its board must find ways to reduce the burden on the kids and their families making those rising tuition payments, without whom scoreboards and other luxuries would not exist.

Such a shift in focus would represent a true campaign for Penn State students.