New PSU alumni group backs trustee candidates

A new coalition of Pennsylvania State University alumni, touting its focus on the future rather than the tumultuous past, is backing a slate for three open seats on the board of trustees.

Calling itself “Upward State,” the group includes three past presidents of the university’s alumni association and aims to make the university more affordable and accessible, emphasize academic excellence and increase “transparency” on the trustee board. The group also wants to make a student a permanent member of the board with his or her election by the student body.

“We believe what’s needed for Penn State especially now is highly qualified alumni elected to the board of trustees who are focused on the future and what’s best for students,” said Jim Carnes, a retired business executive who led the alumni association from 1999 to 2001. “There have been candidates like this in the past but they have been running independently and haven’t been able to get enough votes.”

Upward State is the second alumni group to form in the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandal and take an active role in winning trustee alumni seats, three of which turnover every year. Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, which has been highly critical of the board’s actions in the aftermath of the scandal including its decision to accept NCAA sanctions, has successfully backed candidates in each of the last two elections. Last May, its candidates swept all three seats on the 32-member board.

Upward State’s platform isn’t completely devoid of the past. The dozen or so members say they want to acknowledge legendary football coach Joe Paterno’s contributions to the university’s academic and athletic excellence. Paterno was fired as head coach after child sex abuse charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were made public in November 2011. A university-hired investigator subsequently faulted Paterno and other Penn State leaders for failing to act on allegations that Sandusky abused young boys. The university removed Paterno’s statue from campus and trustees have been reluctant to honor him, though promising to consider acknowledging his contributions at some point.

“We felt that Joe had a big influence on the university and that we needed to recognize his contributions,” Carnes said. “Right now, we think focusing on students is what would make Joe happiest and proudest.”

The group, including two current students, is announcing its formation and platform at press conferences in Harrisburg and State College on Tuesday.

“Most students have moved on and would like to focus on their career and their education and not the immediate past and the scandal and all of that,” said Maggie Harding, 21, a senior food science major from State College.

For the third consecutive year, the election has proven to be highly contested. Thirty-two candidates are vying for the three open alumni seats with election results due in May.

Upward State is backing:

* Dan Cocco, ‘08, a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers who lives in New York. As a senior, Cocco headed the university’s nationally recognized dance marathon — THON — which raises money for pediatric cancer. THON raised a record $13.3 million last month.

* Julie Harris McHugh, ‘86, of Ambler, recently retired company group chairman at Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J. A 27-year veteran of the biopharmaceutical industry, she serves on the board of visitors for the Smeal College of Business.

* Matt Schuyler, ‘87, chief human resources officer for Hilton Worldwide, who is from McLean, Va. He also volunteers on the Smeal board.

“It’s great to be in a position where I can focus on things I’m really passionate about and Penn State is at the top of that list,” McHugh said.

The group, she said, hopes to encourage more alumni to vote in the election. Only five percent of alumni voted last year.

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship has released six finalists for its endorsement, which will be made on March 17. They are:

* Rudy Glocker, '91 and '93, managing partner at Pediped Footwear, Henderson, Nev.

* Robert C. Jubelirer, '59 and '62, former state senator and partner and chair of government relations practice at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell and Hippel LLP in Boalsburg.

* Gavin Keirans, '10, a strategy consultant manager from Philadelphia.

* Al Lord, '67, former chairman and CEO of student lender Sallie Mae.

* Alice W. Pope, '79, '83 and '86, an associate professor of psychology at St. John's University in Brooklyn, N.Y.

* Vincent Tedesco, III, '86 and '95, a retired U.S. Army officer and defense industry consultant from Alexandria, Va.