The governing boards of universities have long come under criticism for lacking diversity.
At Pennsylvania State University, two-thirds of the trustees are white males. The 38-member board has only one African American, Brandon Short, a former Nittany Lion and NFL football player.
On Friday, the board voted to change that. It set an “aspirational goal” of having at least 50% of its members come from racial, ethnic, and gender-underrepresented groups within five years. That would be up from the current 32%.
The current board has two Latinos, Abraham Amoros and state Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera, and one Asian, David C. Han, an academic trustee. Eight members are women.
“We recognize this is a problem,” Short said of the lack of diversity during a recent Penn State town hall meeting.
The board only has control over the selection of a fraction of its members. A half-dozen are appointed by the governor. Nine are elected by alumni and five by agricultural societies. And several serve as part of an appointed position, such as secretary of education.
“It’s really important to make this aspirational goal known so others can take note as new members are appointed and elected,” said Lawrence Lokman, Penn State’s vice president for strategic communications.
Short is leading a trustees’ oversight group that will monitor work being done by a university commission on racism, bias, and community safety, formed in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Faculty in the African American studies department have called for changes, including cutting ties with State College police and disarming campus police; requiring all students to take a course in anti-Black racism; offering more support to Black students and scholars; and creating a task force on local policing and communities of color. At the main campus, in predominantly white Centre County, Black students make up about 4% of the student population and Black faculty less than 3%.
Also at the meeting, the board voted to freeze tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, a plan the university had announced in April. The freeze marks the third consecutive year that tuition is frozen university-wide for Pennsylvania residents. At the main campus, tuition for full-time in-state freshmen and sophomores is $17,416 annually.
The university also voted to cut room and board costs by nearly 15%, given that students won’t be returning to campus after Thanksgiving break. Students will pay $5,013 for a standard double room and mid-level meal plan this fall, the school said.
Also this week, the university continued with plans to move forward with in-person classes, despite mounting concern by some faculty. The university said nearly half its courses would have an in-person component, with 19% of them fully in-person. About 28% of classes will have an in-person component, such as a lab, small group problem-solving section, or rotating lecture attendance.
Because of social distancing requirements, classroom space on campus has been reduced to about 70%, president Eric Barron said. Many spaces not traditionally used for classrooms, including the Nittany Lion Inn, will now host classes, Barron said.