Heavy issues to confront Barron when he takes reins at Penn State

mdawson@centredaily.comFebruary 19, 2014 

  • FSU TRUSTEES TO MEET

    Florida State’s board of trustees will meet at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on the Tallahassee campus to determine how they will replace outgoing President Eric Barron, who is leaving to take the top job at Penn State.

    Barron’s first day at Penn State is May 12, and Barron told the CDT on Tuesday that he expects to find out during the meeting the date he can leave Florida State.

The future of Penn State’s athletic director position awaits incoming President Eric Barron when he takes over in May.

In addition, Barron will start when Pennsylvania’s budget process is in full swing, and how much Penn State will receive is still up the air.

And then there’s getting the lay of the land. A law school building and the Arboretum are new to the campus landscape, since Barron, a longtime faculty member here, left in 2006.

There will be plenty on Barron’s plate when he succeeds Rodney Erickson this spring. Here’s a look at some of the matters in the near-future that Barron can expect to tackle.

Athletic director

When Erickson rose from provost to president in November 2011 as the Jerry Sandusky scandal erupted, the university appointed an interim administrator to fill Erickson’s old post. The university filled the provost job, essentially the president’s top lieutenant, last spring.

The university hasn’t moved yet to hire for senior-level jobs that have been filled by interim or non-permanent appointees. Instead, administrators wanted the new president to have the final say.

The athletic director job, held by former university trustee Dave Joyner, is perhaps the most visible of the three positions that will be opened sometime after Barron’s arrival.

Many in the Penn State alumni community aren’t happy with the way Joyner ascended to the post — he resigned from the board and was given the job, without a search, after previous athletic director Tim Curley was placed on administrative leave during the Sandusky scandal. Curley was charged with perjury, and now faces additional charges that his lawyer has promised to fight vigorously at trial.

Barron revealed a bit of his philosophy on hiring an athletic director during his introductory news conference Monday.

“The truth of the matter is,” he said, “I like to have a really strong AD who’s (an) expert, who understands compliance, who understands scheduling, who understands how to attract a coach, who works hard to make sure that student-athletes are successful, with the student being a very important part of that hyphenated word.”

At Florida State, Barron removed his athletic director, Randy Spetman, in July because he wanted the athletic department to follow a model with “very business-oriented as well as truly athletic-oriented people.”

Spetman forced out Florida State’s beloved, legendary football coach Bobby Bowden, and now for Barron, it’ll be somewhat deja vu here at Penn State.

He’ll find a Penn State where beloved, legendary football coach Joe Paterno was fired, and there are many alumni who still have a sour taste in their mouths over the way that went down the night of Nov. 9, 2011.

Barron was asked during the news conference Monday about honoring Paterno. Barron had already prefaced scandal-related questions with the disclosure that he needs to get caught up on what’s happened, and so he asked for time to deliberate.

“I watched all of his great strengths as a faculty member and as a dean, and as someone who loves this institution,” Barron said. “But in my view whatever we do, we have to make sure that we do it with a high sense of dignity and honor.

“And sometimes that takes time.”

New hires

So far, Barron has gotten more than 300 emails congratulating him on his return to Penn State, he said in an interview Tuesday. He joked he wasn’t sure if that would continue if he poached anyone from Florida State to bring with him here.

He’ll be in charge of hiring two vice presidents, one to oversee research and the graduate school and the other for marketing and communications.

At Florida State, Barron hired a vice president for research in 2013, and he employed a search firm. He said that’s the path he’ll take for these hires, and he plans on having a “very active role.”

“What I have tended to do is choose firms that clearly have experience for a position, and that means they know the landscape and they know the players out there,” Barron said.

It’ll be a priority to get those positions filled, too, because they’re essential for consistency and stability within their respective offices.

State funding

Under Barron, Florida State was designated last year a “pre-eminent” university in the state, and with that label came millions of dollars in new funding from Sunshine State lawmakers. Barron prides himself on that accomplishment, because his school had previously seen budget cuts by the state that bit into its academic and operating budget by 25 percent over five years.

He’s expecting additional monies this year that will come with Florida State meeting academic performance standards.

At Penn State, Barron will find himself as a cheerleader for increased funding for the university, which has seen funding for tuition subsidies stay flat, at $214 million, over the past three years. That’s the same amount proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett for the next fiscal year.

“I spent a lot of time with the legislators and the governor here,” he said. “It is important to me to demonstrate that we spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely, that we have critical needs and that if they give us the opportunity to come back the next year. to tell them how wisely we spent it.”

Barron likely won’t be here yet to represent Penn State at the annual Senate and House appropriations hearings, which are opportunities for the president to tell lawmakers how valuable taxpayer money is. Erickson will likely be the one to handle it, though Barron seems eager to jump in when it’s his turn.

“We have to be persistent and consistent in stating our case,” he said. “I’m going to do the very best I can.”

New places, new faces

When Barron and his wife, Molly, left here in 2006, the O.W. Houts store was still standing on West College Avenue. The quickest way to Altoona was a two-lane country road from Skytop to the traffic light in the village of Bald Eagle.

And there was no Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, no Pegula Ice Arena.

The longtime dean of the College of Engineering, David Wormley, retired this past summer. Searches have been ongoing for deans in the colleges of Communications, Information Sciences and Technology, and Agricultural Sciences.

A group of Penn State students are working to build a rocket to send to the moon, as part of Google’s Lunar X competition. The team, dubbed Lunar Lion, has its eyes on a launch in December 2015.

The university and surrounding community have changed, and Barron said his first priority is taking the time to get reacquainted with his old stomping grounds. Erickson has said he’ll make himself available to work with Barron before the official changing of the guard to ensure a smooth transition.

“I worry that you sit there and say, ‘I was here eight years ago. I know the institution. I know what its strengths are and what its weaknesses are,’ ” Barron said. “Eight years is a long time, and the institution evolves.”

Job No. 1 is learn all he can about Penn State, he said.

He plans to spend time with the deans of the 17 colleges on campus to witness what they brag about and what they cannot brag about.

“The way it works well is when you have a full sense of the strengths of an institution and those weaknesses, and you look how you can leverage those strengths and go to the next level and do it in a way in which the entire community is there eager to do those things with you,” he said.

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