10 Questions with Jim Smith

By July 31, 201510 Question Game

The 10 Question Game

Let’s get to know our Alumni Council Representatives

psaaforall jim smith porsche

James H Smith, PhD

Engineering Science’88, ’92

McLean, Virginia

Alumni Council Member 2015-2017

Jim Smith by the numbers:


Penn State degrees


Number of Porsches owned – ’83, ’86 and ’09


Sets of spare tires stacked in his garage


Estimated cost of a 2022 Porsche 911 (the next model year he’s planning to add to his collection)

Question #1: It was recently revealed that the two year search for a new Alumni Association (AA) Executive Director has failed and that they are starting over. First of all, who are ‘they’ and second, if you were ‘they’, what would you be looking for in an Alumni Association Executive Director?

That position reports to Rod Kirsch, Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State. It’s not clear how much input the Alumni Association has in the hiring. In recent years, it seems to me as though the Alumni Association is not a completely independent organization and is, in many ways, beholden to the Penn State administration. This hiring process reinforces that opinion. For someone who’s just been elected to Alumni Council, the hiring process is completely opaque.

At first, it baffled me how, after a two year search, no one could be found for this position. After thinking about the dual reporting structure of the position, I think I understand why it would be difficult to find a world-class candidate that is willing to take the job as it is now defined.

In the past few years the Penn State Alumni Association has diverged from its mission. It’s become more of a booster club. Perhaps that split, of being a booster club and of supporting the alumni, giving alumni a voice, is part of the problem in recruiting someone for that position. Are they really looking for a Penn State Assistant Vice President of Development? Or are they looking for a new head of an independent alumni association? Perhaps the head of the Alumni Association should report to the Alumni Association itself and the search process should be conducted by the Alumni Council.

I would look for someone with experience in the governance of non-profits, specifically alumni associations. I would be looking at other Big 10 schools, and who runs their associations. I would like to see someone in the position who would represent the members of the Alumni Association in uncertain times, and not be afraid of losing their job. The dual reporting nature of this position (to both the University and the Alumni Association) complicates this role. The schism between the present PSU Administration (aka, the Old Guard) and PSU Alumni is illustrated in the split between Alumni-Elected Trustees and the Old Guard Trustees. If it is the administration actually looking to fill the position, and they want (as they say) someone to represent the Alumni Association with world class abilities and vision, yet is still beholden to the Old Guard Board of Trustee members – it must be impossible to find someone willing to take that job.

On the other hand, if the job had only a single role (Executive Director of the Alumni Association) and reported to the governing body of the Alumni Association (Alumni Council), I think that job would have a number of great candidates. An ex- assistant coach and author who lives in State College and has supported PSU and the Alumni Association since birth comes to mind as an obvious candidate for that position.

Question #2: True/False: The leftover pizza from a stranger’s table at Hi Way Pizza is fair game.

Question #3: This or that: Yuengling or Rolling Rock?


Yuengling. I was born and raised in Pottsville, the home of Yuengling Beer since 1829.

Question #4:In the July/August 2015 edition of The Penn Stater, Editor Tina Hay editorialized in an article that “four alumni trustees sued the Alumni Association in hopes of overturning the [Nominating] committee’s decision, but Centre County Judge Thomas King Kistler ruled against them in early May.” Since Ms Hay doesn’t elaborate on Judge Kistler’s exact ruling, would you care to?

Judge Kistler ruling upheld the bylaws. They were quite clear – if a candidate (or candidates, like Elizabeth Morgan and me) wanted to ensure they were on the ballot, they should get 50 signatures on a ballot petition. He said that if the four plaintiff Alumni Trustees were naive enough to believe that they would be listed just because people like the Executive Director Roger Williams and Director of Volunteer Services Kevin Barron may have misled them about the election process, it was their own fault for trusting those paid employees of the Alumni Association. I agree with the judge’s ruling and am saddened by the fact that, in this case, members of the Alumni Association could not trust the information they were given by employees of the Association.

Perhaps even sadder is that Elizabeth Morgan and I received similar information from employees of the Alumni Association and decided not rely on it. In addition to the nomination process, we also submitted petitions with more than the required 50 signatures. Despite following the petition process, we were denied access to the ballot. I initially attempted to resolve this quietly (to avoid negative publicity to the Alumni Association) with both the Executive Director and President of the Alumni Association through phone calls and letters but was still denied access to the ballot. So I and Roger Williams went before Judge Kistler as well to resolve this. End result is that the members of the Alumni Association were given a choice on the ballot and they chose to elect Beth and myself to Alumni Council.

SAT Question #5:

Jim was traveling 60 mph and the coeds in the car 2,700 ft in front of him were also traveling 60 mph. If Jim accelerated into the passing lane to 85 mph, in how many seconds was he able to carry on a conversation with them all the way back to State College?

A) 8.3 seconds
B) 52 seconds
C) 73 seconds

C: (2700 * 85) / (85-60) = 9,180 ft – to be alongside of them, which = 1.73 miles
1.73 miles at 85 mph = 1 minute 13 seconds = 73 seconds

Question #6: Finish the sentence: When I am a professor at Penn State, I want to teach a class in …

Non-profit governance and ethics

psaaforall porsche 911

Question #7: What does a Porsche 911 and a Volkswagon Beetle have in common?

They were both designed by the Porsche family.

psaaforall vw beetle

 Question #8: You’ve said that you’d like to see the Alumni Association become the voice of the alumni who are leading the call for openness and transparency. Do you see an opening in the AA having a seat on the Board of Trustees for making that happen?

I think the alumni already have a mechanism to directly elect nine members to the Board of Trustees, and hopefully under Senator Yudichak’s proposal, 12 members.

The AA in recent years does not seem to be as representative of the AA members, as it had in past years. The AA has created extra layers of appointed members and internally-appointed committees, to create a facade representing the interests of the members of the AA. That could change in the future, with some improvements in the AA governance. Senator Yudichak seems to feel that the alumni directly electing BOT members is the best way to get that representation.

I have a hard time understanding how the AA representative on the Board of Trustees can profess to be representing the views of its members, when what they are saying is so diametrically opposite of what the alumni elected trustees are saying and supporting. Shouldn’t those views be similar? In particular the AA has released views and positions diametrically opposed to the nine alumni-elected BOT members in recent years.

Question #9: Would you rather: Have a perfect week of skiing in Taos or do the first financial audit of the Alumni Association?

Absolutely do the first financial audit. I would sit in an un-air-conditioned closet, in the attic of Old Main, for a week in the sweltering heat of August to do it. I did request to be assigned to the finance and budget committee of the Alumni Association but did not receive that assignment.

Question #10: Never Have I Ever.

Directions: Hold up all the fingers on one hand. When you hear a statement that is not true you put one finger down.

1. Asked a girl to go skydiving on the first date
2. Driven the wrong way down College Avenue on a football Saturday afternoon on a dare
3. Had my GPA brought down by a Phys Ed class
4. Worn a dress to a wedding
5. Observed a posted 55 mph speed limit.

How many fingers are you holding up?