After all that Penn State has been through, its next president must be someone who is not just capable, but uniquely qualified to lead Pennsylvania’s largest public university back to a state of confidence, achievement and stature. Eric Barron, the Florida State University president who was hired Monday by the Penn State trustees, could be just the person for the job.
Mr. Barron, 62, has impressive credentials in higher education, including service at State College as a professor of geosciences and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. He moved on to become a dean at the University of Texas in Austin, then director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.
As president for the last four years at FSU, Mr. Barron has wrestled with many of the issues he will encounter in his new post. He has worked with state lawmakers, initiated a $1 billion capital campaign and set for Florida State the goal of becoming one of the top 25 public universities.
He is aware of the key role that athletics play at a big university, and on that front his efforts to help Penn State recover from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal will be key. Mr. Barron must make it clear that he accepts the results of the Freeh report and the demand of the NCAA “to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
During a football scandal at Florida State last fall, President Barron called for “respect for the principle of due process” after an FSU student filed a sexual assault complaint against star quarterback Jameis Winston. Prosecutors investigated but could not find sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime. The Winston case should leave Mr. Barron better prepared for the unusual moment he’ll be taking over at Happy Valley.
Although Penn State’s choice can be applauded, its secrecy cannot. Like the closed-door search for chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State denied the public a seat at the table. Yet the hire was made for a state university which gets $279 million a year from taxpayers and counts among its trustees the governor, three of his Cabinet heads and six of his appointees.
In a state where government agencies and public universities are short on transparency, President-elect Barron could make a good first impression by committing to openness and disclosure.