A plan for Penn State

Gavin Keirans is hoping to return to Happy Valley on the university’s Board of Trustees.

Re­turn­ing to his roots: Somer­ton nat­ive Gav­in Keir­ans is cam­paign­ing for a seat on Penn State Uni­versity’s Board of Trust­ees. More than 30 people will be run­ning for three seats. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Gav­in Keir­ans, a Somer­ton nat­ive and 2010 Penn State gradu­ate, is gear­ing up for a run for a seat on the uni­versity’s Board of Trust­ees.

“It’s something I al­ways wanted to come back and do,” he said. “I love Penn State.”

Keir­ans, 25, grew up on Lind­say Street and at­ten­ded St. Joseph’s Prep be­fore en­rolling at Penn State, where he served two terms as pres­id­ent of the Uni­versity Park Un­der­gradu­ate As­so­ci­ation.

As a youth, he and his grand­mom, Frances Lar­kin, of May­fair, would dis­cuss Nit­tany Lions foot­ball.

“We al­ways talked after each Penn State game,” he said. “She loved Joe Pa­ter­no through and through.”

Races for the Board of Trust­ees used to be ho-hum af­fairs, but that all changed when the board fired the le­gendary Pa­ter­no in Novem­ber 2011.

The fir­ing came in the wake of al­leg­a­tions that former long­time de­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or Jerry San­dusky had mo­les­ted boys, and Pa­ter­no was faul­ted by some for not telling the po­lice about an al­leg­a­tion. Pa­ter­no, 84, was in his 46th sea­son as coach and an­nounced that he would re­tire at the end of the 2011 sea­son. Non­ethe­less, the board fired him and uni­versity pres­id­ent Gra­ham Span­i­er. Pa­ter­no re­ceived the news un­ce­re­mo­ni­ously in a tele­phone call.

The coach, who nev­er faced crim­in­al charges, died of lung can­cer in Janu­ary 2012. Since then, the races for board seats have at­trac­ted re­cord num­bers of can­did­ates and voters. New­comers won all six seats up for grabs in the last two elec­tions. The three in­cum­bents who sought ad­di­tion­al terms were de­feated soundly.

The lead­ing or­gan­iz­a­tion call­ing for board re­form is Penn Staters for Re­spons­ible Stew­ard­ship, and Keir­ans is act­ively seek­ing its en­dorse­ment.

More than 30 people, in­clud­ing in­cum­bent Joel My­ers, will be run­ning for three seats. In­cum­bents Jesse Ar­nelle and Mari­anne Al­ex­an­der have not in­dic­ated wheth­er they will run again.

First, Keir­ans had to se­cure 50 nom­in­a­tions by the Feb. 25 dead­line. He eas­ily sur­passed that fig­ure.

PS4RS, as it is known, will identi­fy six pre­ferred can­did­ates on March 1, and the pub­lic will get to vote for their fa­vor­ites in an on­line sur­vey March 10-14. The group will an­nounce its coveted en­dorse­ments be­fore the of­fi­cial vot­ing be­gins on April 10.

“I think I’ve got a good shot,” Keir­ans said of the en­dorse­ment. “Our ob­ject­ives align pretty closely.”

Keir­ans lives in Old City and works as a strategy con­sult­ing man­ager for Ac­cen­ture, a sales and mar­ket­ing firm. The job re­quires some travel.

Now that his pro­fes­sion­al life is go­ing well, he wants to use his ex­ist­ing con­nec­tions with trust­ees, uni­versity ad­min­is­trat­ors and State Col­lege of­fi­cials to be a force on the board.

“It’s the right time to go for it,” he said. “I think I bring a lot to the table.”

The Board of Trust­ees will an­nounce the three win­ners at its May 9 meet­ing.

Al­most 34,000 bal­lots were cast in last year’s elec­tion, and Keir­ans be­lieves can­did­ates this year will need 15,000 votes to win.

Among the oth­er con­tenders are wealthy former Sal­lie Mae CEO Al Lord and former state Sen. Bob Ju­be­lirer.

Keir­ans prom­ised he won’t be “just an­oth­er trust­ee.” In fact, he is spend­ing the week at the uni­versity, meet­ing with uni­versity lead­ers and opin­ion-shapers.

“I think I’d be ex­tremely act­ive and on the pulse of what’s go­ing on,” he said.

On Monday, Penn State an­nounced the hir­ing of Eric Bar­ron as its 18th pres­id­ent. He will leave his post as pres­id­ent at Flor­ida State to come to Happy Val­ley.

Bar­ron will re­place Rod­ney Er­ick­son, who took over for Span­i­er on an in­ter­im basis.

Keir­ans knew Er­ick­son when he was the uni­versity’s ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent and prov­ost, and hopes the new pres­id­ent will be an act­ive one.

“Penn State needs a pres­id­ent with en­ergy and who will dive in­to the com­munity to work with stu­dents, alumni and fac­ulty lead­ers,” he said.

Keir­ans sees Penn State’s repu­ta­tion on the mend fol­low­ing the San­dusky scan­dal. The former as­sist­ant coach, 70, was con­victed of sexu­al ab­use and is serving a long pris­on term.

Ap­plic­a­tions to en­roll at Penn State had dropped after the scan­dal broke, but are now ap­proach­ing what Keir­ans calls “pre-per­se­cu­tion” levels.

The NCAA leveled crip­pling sanc­tions against Penn State and the foot­ball pro­gram. There was a fine of $60 mil­lion, a re­duc­tion in foot­ball schol­ar­ships and a ban on bowl games for four years. The Lions had to for­feit all vic­tor­ies from 1998 to 2011. And play­ers were al­lowed to trans­fer without hav­ing to sit out a year.

“The NCAA sanc­tions were un­pre­ced­en­ted and well over the top. They were worse than an SMU-type death pen­alty,” Keir­ans said, re­fer­ring to the NCAA’s can­celing of South­ern Meth­od­ist Uni­versity’s 1987 foot­ball sea­son for vi­ol­a­tions that in­cluded play­ers get­ting paid.

Keir­ans said ex­cel­lent re­cruit­ing and coach­ing the last two years by Bill O’Bri­en, who re­cently left to be­come coach of the Hou­s­ton Tex­ans, kept the Lions afloat. Penn State can take pride in be­ing a lead­ing re­search in­sti­tu­tion and home of No­bel Prize win­ners, Keir­ans said, adding that the foot­ball pro­gram is also key to alumni pride.

“Foot­ball is not the only thing that mat­ters, but it drives a lot of eco­nom­ic up­side,” he said.

In a 2008 Times art­icle, after win­ning his first UPUA race, Keir­ans sup­por­ted a con­tract ex­ten­sion for Pa­ter­no, not­ing that he was about a lot more than win­ning foot­ball games. He said at the time, “He’s the im­age of Penn State. If the school loses him, it will take a hit in fun­drais­ing.”

While uni­versity of­fi­cials ordered the re­mov­al of a Pa­ter­no statue out­side Beaver Sta­di­um, they have re­cog­nized his leg­acy in oth­er ways.

“They kept the name of the lib­rary. I think that was a pos­it­ive,” Keir­ans said of Pa­ter­no Lib­rary, which was built thanks to sev­er­al mil­lion dol­lars in dona­tions by the foot­ball coach and his wife Sue.

Keir­ans, whose sis­ter Taylor gradu­ated from Penn State last May, foun­ded the non­profit Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League Alumni Corps in 2011. He’s or­gan­ized fel­low loc­al Cath­ol­ic high school gradu­ates to per­form ser­vice lead­er­ship pro­jects such as spru­cing up Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord Ele­ment­ary School in Rhawn­hurst and clean­ing up Lawn­crest Re­cre­ation Cen­ter for a Vet­er­ans Day ce­re­mony.

Add in his two years as a stu­dent lead­er at Penn State and a suc­cess­ful start to his busi­ness ca­reer, and Keir­ans is ready to help his alma ma­ter again as a mem­ber of the Board of Trust­ees.

His “Plan for Penn State” can be found at gavinkeir­ans.com

“I have two years ex­per­i­ence as pres­id­ent,” he said of his un­der­gradu­ate days. “I would be hands-on, get­ting in­volved in the nitty gritty to bet­ter the uni­versity.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus