Penn State trustee election becomes political hardball

More than 26,000 Penn State University alumni have voted in this year’s board of trustees election.  Nearly 40 candidates are vying for just three seats. Some want to restore the reputation of the late football coach Joe Paterno. Others aim to fight NCAA sanctions the school suffered because of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal. 



Some components of the hotly contested race make it sound more like a battle for major political office than a competition for a seat on a university board.

Jeff Jubelirer a Penn State grad and Philadelphia communications consultant, is helping with his father’s campaign for a board seat.  His dad, Robert, is no stranger to tough races — he was president pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate.

“This is unlike any political campaign that I’ve worked on,” Jubilirer said. “It is more intense. It is just as negative as anything — a run for Congress or mayoral campaigns in Philadelphia. All for an election that pays zero dollars.”

As with any campaign, getting out your vote is a key to winning. But this election, Jubelirer says, is in some ways more complicated than a traditional political race. It’s tough to tell which members of the massive alumni network, now spread across the globe, still haven’t cast ballots.

“There’s no database that’s accessible to the candidates to send emails or to reach them by mail, and so you have to spend money or do things on social media,” he said.

The time frame also poses a challenge, Jubelirer said, because “they’ll all vote within a three-week time period. It’s not one day, and it’s all online.”

Just as in a national election, there are platforms and some strong opinions.

Address the past or just move on?

The group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship wants to promote truth and transparency by addressing the problems of the past, said member Maribeth Schmidt.

“Looking at things like the Freeh report and repudiating it, looking at restoring the reputation of Joe Paterno and doing right by his family and, most importantly, restoring the value of Penn State that has been damaged so terribly by the decisions of the board over the last 18 months,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said her organization believes the Penn State community can’t move on until the wrongs of the past are addressed. 

“There are so many different facets of this saga that challenge the critical thinking skills that we all learned as Penn State students,” she said. “And I think those of us that look really deep down in our hearts really, really believe that we’ve got to solve those problems before anyone can move forward.”

Other PSU grads, including Philadelphian Julie Hancher, just want to move forward.

After so much negative attention, Hancher said she’s ready to stop dwelling on the past.

“I’m just really hoping that the Penn State Board of Trustees really can help move our university in a positive direction by proving our core values — helping with philanthropy and basically helping the community,” she said.

Penn State alumni have until Thursday to vote.

Note to readers: Among the candidates for Penn State trustee is Richard Bundy, who is the brother of WHYY’s director of member relations.



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