STATE COLLEGE — Attendees of a Penn State forum held to solicit input on the search for the university’s next president said Friday they wanted their next leader to remain committed in making their beloved university the best it can be.
Most highlighted that the president should be eager to strengthen the quality of education and keep tuition affordable through stronger fundraising efforts, all while openly communicating with the Penn State community.
The gathering Friday was part of a series of open forums to get opinions from faculty, staff and students about what attributes the next president should possess.
Penn State hired the executive search firm Isaacson, Miller to help find the successor for Rodney Erickson, who plans to retire by June 2014. Representatives from the firm led a discussion with about 20 participants Friday.
John O’Donnell, a hospitality management professor, said Penn State’s academic standards should attract many qualified leaders throughout the country.
“This is one of the greatest institutions of higher learning in the world,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a wonderful place to live, it’s got a reputation for resources, for academics, and those things are the most important things we do.”
Erickson took over in November 2011 after Graham Spanier left under pressure just days after the arrest of retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges.
In June, Sandusky, 69, was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse. He is currently serving a 30- to 60-year prison term.
Some decisions by Erickson and other university leaders in the aftermath of the scandal have sparked disdain from factions of alumni, former football players and community residents, including how Erickson handled talks with the NCAA over the severe sanctions on the football program. The penalties included scholarship reductions, a four-year bowl ban and a $60 million fine.
Many attendees Friday said that his successor should be able to further repair the university’s image in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.
Nancy Chiswick, a former university employee who lives in State College, said the next president must have a sound understanding of all aspects of the scandal in order to move forward. She said the scandal has not only been traumatic to the local community, but to the entire state, as well.
“I hope (the future president) will want to know as much as is knowable and try to understand that, not coddle us and say ‘poor you’ and overlook things,” Chiswick, 67, said. “Understand this is a fragile community, but also a tremendously strong community.”