Penn State set to hire Florida State leader, former dean Eric Barron as next president

mdawson@centredaily.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Florida State President Eric Barron



    What: Penn State board of trustees meeting to appoint Eric Barron as president

    When: noon Monday

    Where: Dean’s Hall, The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel

The next president of Penn State will be a familiar face on campus here — Florida State President Eric Barron, a source confirmed Friday.

Barron, a 20-year faculty member and a former dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, will return to Penn State to be the university’s 18th president.

Penn State’s board of trustees will vote to hire Barron during a special meeting at noon Monday at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

The board’s compensation committee also must approve his contract.

Barron, 62, will succeed Rodney Erickson, who delayed retiring and opted to lead the university at the start of the Jerry Sandusky scandal in November 2011. Erickson, whose salary is $600,000, has said he will retire by June 30, the last day of his contract.

Barron will have spent about four years at the helm of Florida State, a public university in Tallahassee, where he oversaw a $1 billion fundraising campaign and worked to turn the school into a “dynamic, elite research institution,” according to his online biography.

During his tenure, Florida State was named the most efficiently run university in the country, and the Seminoles won this year’s football national championship.

According to published reports, Barron’s salary at Florida State is about $400,000.

Barron was on the faculty at Penn State from 1986 to 2006. He was a distinguished professor of geosciences and the director of what was previously called the Earth System Science Center, and he served as the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences dean for the last four years of his tenure.

Upon his departure from Penn State for the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, Barron told the CDT that his time as dean was highlighted by an increase in his college’s enrollment and its research budget. He also said he was pained to leave but couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Barron also served five years on the State College Area school board. He stepped down in 2002, when he became dean.

In addition to work at Penn State and Florida State, Barron’s career includes time from 2006 to 2008 at Texas, where he established a school of geosciences with a $232 million gift from a donor. He left Texas to be director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., from 2008 to 2010.

Barron did not return phone calls from the Tallahassee Democrat, the newspaper reported Friday. Barron’s chief of staff told the paper that Barron was “off the grid” visiting family in New York.

The chairman of Florida State’s governing board said Friday night that his fellow trustees had not heard that Barron was leaving.

“If it is true that Dr. Barron is leaving, it will be a great loss for Florida State University,” said the chairman, Allan Bense. “But we would certainly wish him well in his new endeavor. He would be greatly missed.”

At Penn State, Barron will lead one of the largest universities in the country, with 96,519 students.

He also will take over a university with one of the largest research enterprises in the country, with $848 million spent on research in fiscal 2012-2013, and near the close of a $2 billion fundraising campaign.

Renowned Penn State professor Richard Alley is a longtime colleague who was hired by Barron and worked with him in the university’s geosciences department and Earth System Science Center.

“He had real vision and was a pleasure to work with,” Alley said.

As a dean, Barron identified ways to grow the college and secured money to make it happen, Alley said. As a scientist, Barron was a pioneer for his work in researching what geologic records tell about the Earth’s history of climate changes, Alley said.

“He’s one of the real pioneering names in adding climate history to our understanding of climate future,” Alley said.

Barron will step into a university whose alumni base remains divided from the fallout of the Sandusky scandal. Many alumni resent the way Joe Paterno was fired by phone and the way that Erickson accepted the NCAA sanctions for the Sandusky scandal.

As Penn State’s president, Barron will deal with issues such as keeping the cost of tuition affordable at a time when state funding has been flat.

Penn State is among the most expensive public universities in the country, though that has not stopped applications from rolling in at record levels this year.

Penn State will join two peer institutions that have named their next leaders over the past two weeks.

Ohio State University hired the president of the University of California in Irvine, Michael Drake, to be its next president, and the University of Pittsburgh chose Patrick Gallagher, who is the acting U.S. deputy secretary of commerce, to be its chancellor and CEO.

Drake and Gallagher will start in the summer.

The Penn State student blog Onward State first reported Barron’s name as the presidential pick on Friday. The CDT, Philadelphia Inquirer and Tallahassee Democrat confirmed the reports.

The search to replace Erickson has been ongoing for more than a year. Penn State set up a search committee, hired a head-hunting firm and held forums on campus to get feedback from the university community about qualities the next president should possess.

Penn State was on the verge of naming its president Nov. 1, which was the date of a special meeting for a board of trustees personnel decision.

The board’s only personnel decision is hiring a new president, according to its bylaws.

But Old Main abruptly canceled the meeting, and the board chairman indicated that the process was starting over when he said “all options are open.”

Days later, a New York newspaper reported that Penn State’s presidential pick had been found to have been padding his pay.

That candidate was David Smith, the president of the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, though Penn State has never identified him.

Since then, university leaders have been tight-lipped about the search process. The board chairman, Keith Masser, gave a vague update on the search progress at the trustees’ meeting in January, saying that a new president would be named “in the months ahead.”

The reality was quicker than Masser’s prediction, as it ended up being a month away.

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