Monday, December 18, 2017
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Barron's tenure at FSU gave him the experience Penn State was seeking

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Eric Barron, the president of Florida State University since 2010, was chosen Monday to lead Penn State University as it continues grappling with fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Barron, 62, will bring with him the experience of managing a major state university known as much for its for storied athletic program as its academic mission, as well as the fallout from a sex-abuse scandal with ties to big-time college football.

Barron, who worked at Penn State for 20 years, including four as dean of its College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, will succeed president Rodney Erickson, who plans to retire in June. He will earn $6 million over the next five years if he completes the contract with Penn State, including an $800,000 base salary — about twice as much as he makes per year at FSU.

He is slated to become president at Penn State on May 12, though the board expects him to join the school as "president-elect" sometime before then.

Penn State trustees unanimously approved the selection at a special meeting in State College after a 15-month search process in which university officials had kept the new president's identity secret, refusing to confirm whether Barron was even being considered until the meeting began.

The news, which began to leak out late Friday, left top Florida State officials stunned. Barron has been popular with students and faculty and has earned accolades for working successfully with the Legislature and putting FSU on a path to enhance its national standing. He leaves amid a $1 billion capital campaign.

Florida State's trustees will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday in Tampa to begin the process of replacing Barron.

"While this is a great loss for the state of Florida and Florida State University, this is also a tremendous opportunity for Eric," FSU board chairman Allan Bense said in a statement. "He leaves this university in very good shape, and we certainly wish him well as he moves on to this new challenge."

In a weekend interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, Barron said it was "awfully hard" to leave FSU, his alma mater.

Barron and his wife, Molly, were on hand for the Penn State vote, appearing on the podium immediately after the decision. After he gave a brief speech, trustees, faculty, alumni and other onlookers gave Penn State's 18th president a standing ovation.

Erickson, Penn State's former provost and executive vice president, was named president in November 2011 after then-president Graham Spanier was forced out following child molestation accusations against Sandusky, a former assistant football coach.

Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence after being convicted in 2012 of 45 counts for the sexual abuse of 10 boys. Spanier was later charged in an alleged cover-up and is awaiting trial, along with two other former administrators.

On Monday, Barron called the Sandusky scandal painful and saddening but focused on the changes it has brought.

"What I see is an institution that has really taken control of compliance and is no doubt now a model university that I think a lot of other universities are going to look at and say this is the way we should be operating to make sure we do things the right way," he told reporters after the vote.

He said he never met Sandusky while working at Penn State, and he sidestepped a question about what the university should do regarding the late former head coach Joe Paterno, still a sensitive topic on campus and among alumni.

"Whatever we do, we have to make sure that we do it with a high sense of dignity and honor," Barron said. "Sometimes that takes time."

During his four years at Florida State, Barron has been an aggressive advocate for increased state funding and academic recognition for the university.

He also understands just how important athletic success is to a university.

"I really want successful athletic programs, because it's the front door. It's absolutely the front door to your university," he was quoted as saying by USA Today in June 2013.

Like Penn State, FSU has recently dealt with a football scandal.

Last fall, redshirt quarterback Jameis Winston became one of the biggest attractions in college football, winning the Heisman trophy and leading the Seminoles to the national title.

But in November, after a year-old sexual assault complaint against Winston became public, prosecutors did not find enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

Barron had cautioned against a rush to judgment in the case, railing against "inappropriate conjecture," urging "a respect for the principle of due process" and affirming the school's "commitment to each and every one of our students."

Penn State officials indicated Monday that Barron's handling of the Winston matter played a role in the decision to hire him.

Information from Associated Press and the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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