Is Penn State a Real University?

“These essays are reminiscences of past things that seem to be missing in the present—things that people wish were here but often think impossible because they have never seen them. These essays can remind you that once they were here, and therefore could be again. This is the real meaning of conservation—to have a conserving spirit. Spirit is indestructible. But only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive in us.” Ben Novak, Author’s Introduction

This series of essays by former Penn State Trustee Dr. Ben Novak first appeared in the pages of State College Magazine in the late 1980s. Now, for the first time since its original publication, “Is Penn State A Real University?” is available in one collection, updated and framed with original commentary by the author.

In answering the work’s central question, Novak delves into the institution’s lost history and examines what lessons it still holds for us today. At 128 pages, the book packs an impressive volume of thought-provoking substance into a very quick read. Especially now, it holds great treasures for Penn Staters seeking ways to better understand their Alma Mater within a hopeful, common context. We humbly offer this work as a guidepost on the path toward continual rejuvenation, ever the task of a living and healthy institution.

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In 2012, Dr. Ben Novak spoke on the themes of this book to the Penn State University Park Undergraduate Association:


“Is Penn State a Real University?” is also available in audiobook format, recorded with Ben Novak and produced by volunteers. It is available to own on Audible, Amazon, and Apple.


“This is precisely the reflection Penn Staters of all generations, especially future ones must read in search of their university’s very soul. More than a slogan to be branded or a brand to be marketed, it’s a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper meaning of ‘We Are Penn State.’”

“Dr. Novak’s essays… are incredibly prescient given the challenges the University has faced in the [Sandusky scandal]. A look into the history of the University and the history of student governance is a great way to help us determine what is the best path forward as we think critically about what makes up a “real” University. I highly recommend this quick read for any Penn Stater to help understand more about our past.

“Highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Penn State, education, or town/gown relations. Ultimately, the book shines because of its honesty and the no-nonsense approach the author takes to the topic.