Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship didn’t break much new ground in its recent ad campaign to “call out” current trustees Paul Suhey and Stephanie Deviney, both of whom are seeking re-election to their alumni seats.
The group has long been clear about its goal to oust Board of Trustees members, including Suhey and Deviney, for their involvement in former football coach Joe Paterno’s removal and the acceptance of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s investigation into Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
So to avoid going down the familiar rabbit hole by debating those points, let’s concede that reasonable people can disagree about the board’s handling of Paterno and the Freeh Report. The most unsettling element of the ads, then, is the group’s apparent myopic focus on these two issues.
At this point, PS4RS isn’t running any ads related to the university’s bloated tuition rates. PS4RS isn’t running any ads related to the university’s search for a new president. PS4RS isn’t running any ads related to reform of the university’s general education requirements. PS4RS isn’t running any ads related to capital projects planned or underway. These are just a few of the crucial issues that the university is facing here and now. They deserve much more attention than Paterno’s legacy, which fair or not, is long beyond repair. And even if it could be repaired, it’s not immediately clear how that would benefit current and future Penn State students more than a tuition cut, a strong leader in the president’s office and an overhaul of basic degree requirements. The group, which claims to have a membership of 18,000, has said it plans to endorse candidates for the board. If it wants to consider current board member’s actions during their terms in its calculus, that is its prerogative.
But if PS4RS really wants to use its voice to do the most good and not just advocate for the narrow interests it’s talking about right now, it would do well to inform the Penn State community about all of the issues at stake in this election. It should also speak in a tone capable of elevating the discourse. Its recent ads read: “Suhey & Deviney voted to fire JoePa. Now they want OUR vote. Really?” and “Suhey & Deviney accepted Freeh & Sanctions without challenge. Three more years? Really?”
They’re written on the deliberative level of a spurned teenager lashing out at a friend, putting a bad face on whatever valid points the group might otherwise make.
If the group wants its message to make an impact, it should at the very least be communicated on a level consistent with the reputation the university’s academics currently enjoy. Really.