Our View | Eric Barron must focus on students, progress at Penn State

February 18, 2014 

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Current President Rodney Erickson, left, shakes the hand of President-elect Eric Barron at the trustees meeting. The Penn State University Board of Trustees approves Eric Barron as its next president, Monday, February 17, 2014, in University Park, Pa.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT photo Buy Photo

A former colleague called Eric Barron “a dynamo.”

He will need to be that and more as he takes over as president at Penn State, succeeding Rodney Erickson in May.

We welcome Barron and his wife, Molly, back to Penn State and back to our community. We don’t envy him the work that lies ahead, but urge him to place transparency, educational excellence and affordable tuition at the top of his agenda.

Barron was approved unanimously by the board of trustees and introduced Monday as the university’s 18th president.

He brings a reputation for student-focused, academic-centered leadership, exactly what Penn State needs as it moves away from the cloud of the past two years and into its next chapter of research and learning excellence.

Barron is coming home to Penn State, where he served on the faculty and as an administrator in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences over two decades.

But he returns to a university still mending its wounds and seeking a path forward.

“He’s very skilled at bringing people together around the table,” said Bill Easterling, who succeeded Barron as Earth and Mineral Sciences dean.

“Eric has one of the thickest hides around, and he’s a good listener,” Easterling said. “Those characteristics serve him well.”

They will in his new job, although those who have strongly opposed Erickson and the board of trustees voiced support for Barron and applauded his hiring.

We hope some of the good feelings stem from his pledge to help students fully utilize the resources of the university and maximize their Penn State experiences.

He built just such a reputation at Florida State, which in four years under his guidance earned national honors for efficiency while increasing programs for its students, including military veterans.

We have urged the Penn State trustees to put aside their bickering and spend more energy on curriculum and learning opportunities.

Perhaps Barron is the one who can drive this much-needed revival.

We urge Penn State’s new president to embrace transparency, which has been a rallying cry at the university but not always fully in evidence.

Barron will be seen by some as part of the “old-boy” Penn State network, given his history at the university. But we ask him to put diversity at the front of all decisions, and to seek a spectrum of experiences and backgrounds among those who have positions of influence in his administration and across the university system.

And we ask Barron to target the price of an education at Penn State.

Bringing a student-focused approach to his job must include the cost to the students and their families for the privilege of attending Penn State.

There is much work to be done.

John Dutton, dean emeritus in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, hired Barron away from the University of Miami in 1986, and celebrated his colleague’s return to Penn State from Florida State on Monday. It was Dutton who called Barron “a dynamo” and recounted the moment nearly three decades ago when he said of Barron, “That man’s going to make us all a success.”

Trustee Paul Silvis said of the new president: “He has the power to bring us all together.”

For the sake of a university and community in need of a fresh start, we hope both of those statements prove prophetic.

From what we saw and heard Monday, we believe Barron has the tools and talents to forge a legacy of positive change at Penn State.

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