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What past crises tell us about PSU's new president

Plus, SCOTUS rejects Pa. redistricting challenge.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
November 1, 2022
PSU profile, redistricting rejection, culture of abuse, '302ed,' fresh evidence, no guidance, and Philadelphia's Chickenman. It's Tuesday and November.
A HISTORIC CHALLENGE: We've been challenged to raise $125,000 from our readers by December 31st, and if we do it, the Lenfest Insitute for Journalism will DOUBLE it. That means your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Will you help us kick off this historic end-of-year campaign by making a tax-deductible gift now?

We need your support to continue to investigate our government and elected officials, track our tax dollars, and provide vital public-service and explanatory reporting so that more people can get involved in our communities. We are stronger together, but we can't do it without your support. Can we count on you to help us reach our goal?

— Colin Deppen, PA Post editor

Three years before becoming president of Pennsylvania's largest public university, Penn State, Neeli Bendapudi arrived at the University of Louisville and took the reins of an organization in crisis.

The Kentucky school was suing its past president for mismanaging tens of millions of dollars. The men's basketball team had been sanctioned by the NCAA. And then there was the Papa Johns scandal.

Bendapudi was tasked with fixing it, evoking what she has described as a "glass cliff" dynamic that occurs in times of crisis when non-normative leaders, often women or people of color, are in leadership roles.

The risk of failure is high. The edges of the cliff are transparent.

Now Bendapudi is at the helm of Penn State — a university with a $7.7 billion budget and one of the largest alumni networks in the country. 

Spotlight PA offers an in-depth look at the leader, her abrupt Louisville departure, and the potential for a glass cliff in Happy Valley.

Read the full profile: Penn State's new president led a Kentucky university through crises. This is the story of her high-wire act.

THE CONTEXT: Spotlight PA reports that in some ways history is already repeating itself for Penn State's new president.

She is the first woman and first person of color to hold the role there. Her decisions have already garnered pushback and national attention. The university is facing a $127 million budget deficit. Faculty morale is low. And, once again, a board of trustees is turning to her to fix it.

Bendapudi, 59, said in September that she plans to retire as a Nittany Lion. Those who've followed her career say time will tell.

"I think you'll see what she's really committed to at Penn State, if she stays," Louisville professor Ricky Jones explained.


"We are pleased with the cooperative spirit of the discussions that have taken place, and we have voluntarily dismissed our motion for an injunction."

—An attorney for U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) on the dropping of a lawsuit filed by Perry over the seizure of his cellphone data by FBI investigators
Today, we're kicking off our biggest challenge in Spotlight PA history.

If we raise $125,000 by the end of this year, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism will DOUBLE it. That means if you contribute to Spotlight PA now, it will be matched dollar for dollar, powering our vital journalism into 2023.

Make a tax-deductible gift and start this campaign with a bang »

Next year will be pivotal to the state's future, beginning with a new administration in the governor's office and a new legislative session. Now more than ever, we need independent, nonpartisan journalists to hold our elected leaders to account, track our tax dollars, and ensure the government works for us all.

Our end-of-year fundraising campaign is our most important of the year, and we want to prove how much Pennsylvanians value Spotlight PA's work. Send a gift now and don't miss this special opportunity to double your impact.
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGBTQ Rights
»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband
»  Taxes & Business Regulations
»  Election Security & Voting Rights

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election in 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador
»  Una guía completa para las elecciones del 8 de noviembre

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» CBS3: Biden, Obama to campaign in Philadelphia on Saturday
» INQUIRER: Mastriano ally's plan to 'stop the steal 2022' (paywall)
» NEW YORKER: How election subversion went mainstream in Pa.
» NYT: Fetterman up by five in Times/Siena US Senate poll (paywall)
» PA.GOV: Today is your last chance to request a Nov. 8 mail ballot
» POLITIFACT: Defect explains early ballots in Centre Co. drop boxes
» ROLLING STONE: Some Oz campaign staffers attended the J6 rally
A drone shot of Jim Thorpe — the Switzerland of America — by Carl Bennett, via Moon M. Now a request: We want to see (and share) your mail ballot selfies and other voting pics. Email your Decision 2022 photos to us here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
SCOTUS DECLINES: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge of Pennsylvania's new legislative maps, which Republicans argued had placed an unconstitutional focus on creating more opportunities for candidates and voters of color. Courthouse News Service reports the Supreme Court did not issue any statement. There are no more challenges pending on the legislative maps.

HOSPITAL HARM: The Inquirer has a concerning new report on an alleged culture of abuse inside the forensic unit at Norristown State Hospital. According to the outlet, a dozen former patients and staffers described attacks by security staff there. One said his abuser told him: "You're here. You're crazy. They won't believe your word over mine." The unit treats people deemed incompetent to stand trial.

'302' CALLS: PublicSource reports the number of petitions filed to initiate evaluations of people for involuntary psychiatric treatment increased by 21% from 2015 through 2021 across Allegheny County. In 2021, Black adults there were petitioned for involuntary commitment 2.4 times more often than white adults, and while police say treatment is preferable to an arrest, advocates are concerned.

NEW LOOK: Mumia Abu-Jamal is petitioning for a new trial, saying evidence that casts doubt on his conviction wasn't properly disclosed by prosecutors. Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. The evidence cited includes a letter from a star witness to prosecutors asking about money owed to him. But a judge says the issue was already litigated.

POLICY GAPS: Most Pennsylvania schools lack official guidelines on the education of LGBTQ students, including how to handle name changes and gender identities, The Courier Times (paywall) reports. Meanwhile, the state's equity, inclusion, and belonging guides for LGBTQ students haven't been updated since 2016, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has no tailored guidance at all.

HEATING HELP: The grant application period for this season of LIHEAP — the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — is now open, officials say. Here's what you need to know and how to get started.

'CHICKENMAN': Attention Philadelphia: If the Phillies aren't your thing, consider watching Alexander Tominsky eat a whole chicken "on that abandoned pier by Walmart." Just remember: "This is not a party."

TOLL TROUBLE: A bill that would lower the trigger for vehicle registration suspensions over unpaid turnpike tolls from $500 to $250 is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf. This after $104 million in tolls went uncollected in a year.

MAD MAX: Vice reports doomsday enthusiasts recently descended on Montrose for apoXeast, a Mad Max-style rager "celebrating humanity's inevitable destruction." Note: There are graphic images in that link.

MERCH MADE: The Harrisburg Senators baseball team promised to turn this viral case of mistaken identity into a T-shirt. They delivered.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Superstitions

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Joel S., Chuck M., Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Kimberly D., Wendy A., Barbara F., Becky C., Patricia M., Kevin M., Elaine C., Michelle T., Jody A., Don H., Beth T., Susan D., Nancy S., George S., Brandie K., Mark O., Tish M., Kim C., Steve D., Dianne K., Bethany R., David W., Samantha S., James B., Stanley J., and Jon W.
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