Penn State expected to appoint Eric Barron as president on Monday
February 15, 2014 12:22 PM
Phil Coale/Associated Press
Eric J. Barron, a Lafayette, Ind., native is currently the president of Florida State University.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press
Penn State President Rodney Erickson is planning to retire by June 30.
By Bill Schackner, Eleanor Chute and Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penn State University plans to appoint a new president at a special meeting Monday, and a source close to the process says the candidate poised for selection is Florida State University president Eric J. Barron, a former Penn State dean.
The confirmation Friday came amid reports by multiple news outlets in Central Pennsylvania that Mr. Barron, a Lafayette, Ind., native, is expected to be the university's pick.
On Friday, Penn State said its board of trustees planned to meet at noon Monday on the University Park campus. The purpose of the session in the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel is a "presidential appointment," spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
Asked about Mr. Barron, Ms. Powers said, "It's a confidential process, and we don't discuss any candidates, real or imagined."
Mr. Barron could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
In Tallahassee, Florida State spokeswoman Jill Elish said on behalf of Florida State University board of trustees chair Allan Bense:
"We have received no official communication from anyone about this. If it is true that Dr. Barron is leaving, it will be a great loss for Florida State University. But we would certainly wish him well in his new endeavor. He would be greatly missed."
During a search lasting more than a year, Penn State once before had been to the brink of announcing a new president. In November, it called a special board meeting at which trustees were widely expected to name a successor to Rodney Erickson, who plans to retire by June 30.
But the session, at which a single candidate was expected to be presented, abruptly was canceled.
Ms. Powers said the board's compensation committee, the panel that sets pay for the school's top leaders, will meet in executive session prior to the board's public meeting, which will be streamed live. A news conference will follow.
"If a president is named, the details of any contract will be released and posted to the board's website," she said. "I'm not sure of the timing on that."
The search -- along with a number of reforms -- were announced in the aftermath of fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, was arrested in November 2011 and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term after his conviction for sexually assaulting boys, some on campus.
Mr. Barron arrived at Penn State in 1986, initially to start the new Earth System Science Center. He became a professor of geosciences in 1989.
As the center grew, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Environment Institute -- which included ESSC and a group of other research centers -- was formed.
He was named director of the new center in 1998, became distinguished professor in 1999 and was named dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 2002 before leaving for the University of Texas at Austin.
On Feb. 1, 2010, Mr. Barron became president of Florida State, where he earned his bachelor's degree.
His biography on the Florida State website credits him with leading "his alma mater to new heights as a dynamic, elite research institution with a central focus on being one of the most student-centered universities in the country."
It notes Florida State was ranked as the "most efficiently operating university in the nation" by U.S. News & World Report.
He is overseeing a $1 billion capital campaign.
At Florida State, one of Mr. Barron's proudest legacies is the founding of the prestigious Garnet and Gold Scholar Society in 2010.
The society rewards students for being well-rounded by having at least three of five major areas of engagement: leadership, internship, service, international and research.
Mr. Barron has said he started the program as a way to encourage students to become more engaged and involved in their university. His philosophy is that engaged students are more likely and more motivated to be successful academically.
Under his leadership, the university has received numerous honors and grants for scientific research and innovation, including a two-year, $4.4 million contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The project is designed to research and improve current prosthetic systems and design a more comfortable, temperature-controlled socket for amputees.
Mr. Barron earned a bachelor's degree in geology from Florida State in 1973. He earned a master's and doctorate in oceanography, both from the University of Miami.
Mr. Barron began his career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. He left NCAR in 1985 when he became an associate professor at the University of Miami and then left Miami for Penn State.
From Penn State, he went to the University of Texas - Austin where he was dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences for two years. Mr. Barron became director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in July 2008 and announced in December 2009 that he was stepping down to become president of Florida State.
A biography by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR, said his research interests are in climatology, numerical modeling and Earth history.
He has a lengthy list of professional, academic and government boards and associations as well as publications.
While Mr. Barron made his reputation over the years in academics, he is no stranger to football controversy.
Before he became president of Florida State in 2010, the university faced a case of academic fraud which resulted in the NCAA in 2009 vacating the wins of 10 Seminole teams in 2006 and 2007.
The NCAA also placed the teams on probation.
A USA Today article in June 2013 said Mr. Barron had taken "an increasingly active role in nearly every area of the [athletic] department," from contract negotiations to fundraising.
It noted Mr. Barron saw sports as critical, quoting him as saying, "I really want successful athletics programs because it's the front door."
If elected, Mr. Barron will at Penn State find an elite football program trying to rebound -- as is the university as a whole -- from the damage to its reputation done by the arrest and conviction of Sandusky.
Amid a firestorm of criticism that the university did not act soon enough to expose Sandusky's offenses, Penn State president Graham Spanier resigned by mutual agreement five days after Sandusky's November 2011 arrest and famed football coach Joe Paterno was fired.
The firing of Mr. Paterno, who later died of cancer, outraged Paterno loyalists, who said he and the program were being scapegoated. Mr. Spanier and two other top administrators were later charged in an alleged conspiracy to coverup Mr. Sandusky's crimes -- accusations he and the other administrators deny.
Mr. Barron faced his own football challenge when the state began investigating sexual assault accusations against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012. In December nearly a year later, the state announced there would be no charges.
When that was announced, Mr. Barron issued a statement to faculty and staff saying, "Florida State University has a primary purpose to educate young people while enabling them to hone their skills and develop their gifts so they can become productive citizens. It is also our responsibility to treat students fairly and provide appropriate support.
"Recent weeks have provided a painful lesson, as we have witnessed harmful speculation and inappropriate conjecture about this situation and the individuals involved. As a result, we have all been hurt.
"A respect for the principle of due process is essential to the integrity of our community. Our commitment to each and every one of our students is unwavering and will remain our priority."
Mr. Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy, and Florida State won the national championship last month.
In the sports article, the USA Today noted that Mr. Barron likes to get lots of information.
"I am a data-driven person. I can't help it. It comes from that science background," he told the paper.
Mr. Barron told USA Today: "Everybody has an opinion. I get lots and lots of advice. A lot of alumni give me advice. A lot of board members give me advice. A lot of people inside give me advice. People give me advice all over the place. And then I have to decide to do the best I can to decide."
As he is returning to Penn State, so he also returned to NCAR where he started his career and later became director.
He then found his past experience there helpful.
In an internal interview when he became NCAR director, he said, "It doesn't hurt to have a little history -- to understand what it means to be a graduate student at NCAR, postdoc, ladder scientist, external participant and trustee."
Asked to characterize his leadership style in the UCAR interview, he said, "I really like to talk to people, get advice and have interactions. I promote this even though in many cases I might hear things that I can't do or can't agree with.
"I think that no one is so wise that they can just merrily go off and believe they know all the answers. But at the same time, I know I have to make decisions, and I'm not afraid to make them."
He added that he likes to "think strategically," saying, "I think a strategic plan should be actionable, so that what you're looking at takes you somewhere. It makes a big difference to people when they sense what the future is and know what their leadership is working toward."
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter: @BschacknerPG. Eleanor Chute: email@example.com or 412-263-1955. First Published February 14, 2014 2:07 PM
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