Open Letter: Braden Crooks to Rodney Erickson

Published at CollegianOnline, April 15, 2013

President Rodney Erickson,

As you know, the Penn State West Campus steam plant sits on the corner of College Avenue and Burrowes Street. In 2011, voters passed the State College Borough’s community bill of rights.

According to the community bill of rights, fracking and related fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines, are banned.

I’m very proud to have contributed to this success, which we owe to 72 percent of State College voters, by founding Groundswell PA — the community organization that led the effort to pass the bill of rights.

The long-term viability of our collective future must be our priority, and having a positive impact on our local environment, global climate and most of all, each other, must become the central ethic of society.

Taking collective responsibility to act ethically and prioritizing the long-term is not easy, but it is the standard we should commit ourselves to.

It is the standard the voters set for State College when they passed the State College Borough’s community bill of rights — so must be respected.

I contend that the Penn State pipeline violates all of these ethics and responsibilities.

The Penn State pipeline has left me deeply disappointed in my alma mater. It is a continuation of a toxic legacy.

The insular leadership at the top of Penn State has failed to consider the effect of their choices on average folks.

Their unpreparedness for the popular reaction against the pipeline bespeaks of their alienation from the people.

As of writing this letter, there has yet to be even a statement from you, President Erickson, on the controversy. Let me be clear — no one wants our university to be so alienated from us. We care about Penn State, and we want to build a mutual respect based on a commitment to ethical actions.

Let’s open this process up. Let’s work it through, together.

Joining the pipeline resistance are several experienced engineers, elected officials, enthusiastic students, professors and concerned citizens. All are ready to work toward an equitable solution and know it is possible.

Why reject them? Why not let this become a chance to turn the page into a new era?

It’s my opinion that even if Penn State were to scrap the pipeline and decide a new way forward on its own, this still wouldn’t be enough, unless the university also initiated a transparent, participatory process with the community to make this choice.

Only that would mark a change in the status quo, and begin a new era at Penn State around openness, inclusion and responsibility.

So the people of State College and Penn State shouldn’t be interested in concessions when there’s only one path that’s best for both parties.

Without ongoing co-creation, things at our university will not have changed. You see, community-powered decision making is at the heart of the local Bill of Rights.

I invite you, President Erickson, to make a statement in solidarity with the people, and in support of the State College Borough’s community bill of rights.

Join the community and voters of State College — this is your place of strength. Work with the State College Borough Council, which has rightly denied the pipeline permit and reached out a hand to negotiate a way forward. The council’s first step was with the best interests of both Penn State and the community at heart.

Otherwise, a long fight lays ahead that will only drag Penn State deeper into controversy and alienation. The pipeline will be stopped. I’m afraid that if Penn State continues down this unsustainable and unethical path, the community bill of rights will have to be enforced against the university to stop the pipeline, and the people’s decision will be brought to bear anyway.

Please choose the responsible path, a better Penn State is possible.

Braden Crooks, Class of 2011, founded Groundswell PA, which has a mission of creating sustainable communities. Email him at bradencrooks@gmail.com.

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