Bill Oldsey first joined Penn State’s board of directors in 2013 and has since been re-elected twice. Yet he remains passionate about improving the university he loves so much in many ways.
Oldsey, a 1976 Penn State graduate, was driven to become a director largely because of his own experience at Happy Valley. His parents are both Penn State graduates and began raising their own families when he was born in Bellefonte in 1953. While Oldsey was growing up in Happy Valley, his father worked as a professor of English and American Literature at the university. .
“I was born and raised in this place,” Oldsey said. “My dad left Penn State and went to college in West Chester when I was in high school – it didn’t make me happy – I could have gone to a lot of schools. My parents didn’t necessarily want going to Penn State, but going anywhere else was out of the question.
After earning his undergraduate degree at Happy Valley, Oldsey spent approximately 30 years in the publishing business. He was group chairman for Pearson Education International, and eventually became chairman of McGraw Hill-Education – it’s a wealth of experience that Oldsey says gives him a valuable and unique perspective on higher education.
“I’m in the education business – 33 years in the education business,” Oldsey said. “I think it’s a good thing for a board our size to have a few people who understand the higher education background business. I think I put that on the table.
Along with his love for Penn State, Oldsey was also pushed to run for a trustee position following the university’s handling of the Sandusky scandal. The former publishing director notes, however, that while he is passionate about pursuing the legacy and ideals of Joe Paterno, his success as a director over the past nine years makes him a candidate who is more than just one topic.
“If that was the impetus for my race, I still feel good about it. But sometimes people tend to write us off. They even have a name for it, they call us ‘JoeBots’,” said Oldsey: “If you look at my work over the past nine years, you can say that, but it’s very unfair if you do. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done as an administrator.”
Oldsey went on to note that he is one of only two people on the current board to have served on the committees that helped hire Eric Barron and Neeli Bendapudi as presidents of Penn State, respectively.
After serving as chairman of the Academic Affairs, Research, and Student Life Committee for several years, Oldsey also wants to continue making Penn State one of the top colleges in the nation. To do this, Oldsey believes that national rankings are a key point to address.
“One of the initiatives I started last July was to focus very heavily on rankings,” Oldsey said. “Some of our rankings have dropped in US News and World Report, so we’re now focusing on why that happened and things we can start doing to help improve.”
Oldsey’s primary focus is on improving rankings in order to recruit faculty and students, as well as growing the overall research business at Penn State. He understands that many other universities can manipulate these rankings, but he’s proud that he and the rest of the committee have “taken the high road” in sticking to how Penn State can grow as an academic leader in national scale.
“This initiative that we’ve started now – we’re definitely going to improve the rankings,” Oldsey added.
However, for all of this to happen, Penn State must continue to attract top-notch students. Oldsey understands this and is proud of the work he has already done to keep the board open and connected to the student body at Penn State.
“A few years ago I started doing what I would call my ‘HUB stops,'” Oldsey said. “I would just go into the HUB, pick up a group of students and introduce myself, and say, ‘I’m an administrator, I want to know what the burning issues are from your perspective. I got huge amounts of information this way.
Over the past few years, Oldsey also said he has made it a point to meet with the UPUA president and vice president every few weeks.
“What I find is that I have to ask students good questions and then shut up and listen,” Oldsey said. “I don’t think we have as many on the board as we probably should.”
Through these extended conversations, Oldsey learned about a number of the most pressing issues for students that he wants to address, including affordability and financial insecurity.
In order to address these longstanding issues, Oldsey plans to take a closer look at the university’s spending. Its goal is to take a closer look at Penn State’s organizational structures and overall administrative costs to create efficiencies that can contribute to the affordability of an education here.
“We should stop blaming the high cost of Penn State on governments. It’s a waste of time,” Oldsey said. “I think three buckets. There is a lot of money that any large university spends on teaching, learning, and research output. You don’t mess with this bucket… There’s a second bucket – all the money and resources we spend on the student experience.
“The third bucket is what I would call administrative costs,” he added. “It’s all the money the university spends that isn’t directly related to teaching, learning and research outcomes and student experiences.
Oldsey has made it clear that there should be a lot more focus on that third bucket, and there should be more questions about why the money is being spent on it.
“If you’re spending a lot of money on people, processes, or infrastructure that doesn’t get things done in those first two areas, then the question has to be, ‘Why are we doing this? ‘” Oldsey added.
Oldsey noted that there should be more scrutiny of Penn State’s efforts in constructing new buildings or purchasing more real estate. In particular, he noted that new administrative buildings should be challenged more often, while the university should continue to support the creation of new research laboratories or sports facilities.
With nearly nine years of service at Penn State under his belt, Oldsey clearly has a long list of goals and priorities that he wants to continue to address. Now running for his third re-election alongside Ted Brown and Barb Doran, Oldsey is excited to kick off with his affordability and access initiatives, as well as an ongoing effort to truly listen and connect with students and teachers.
With his goals clear in mind, Oldsey is especially motivated by the opportunity to work with Penn State president-elect Neeli Bendapudi, the former Louisville president he helped bring to Happy Valley.
“I was very involved in recruiting Neeli. I want to make sure the transition is good for her and people at Penn State can meet her quickly and understand the essence of Dr. Bendapudi,” Oldsey said. “To meet her is almost immediately to gravitate around her. She connects very well with the students and knows how to speak the language of the students.
Voting for this year’s election of directors will close at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 5. Eligible alumni can request ballots. via this online form.
Editor’s note: Oldsey’s interview is the latest in a multi-part series that aims to profile alumni running for vacant board seats. Onward State does not and will not endorse any candidate in this election. Check out our site to learn more about the eight candidates vying for places on the board of directors this election cycle.