TALLAHASSEE — Thirty-six years after Eric Barron graduated from Florida State University, he got a somewhat mixed invitation to return — this time as FSU's new leader.
University trustees on Tuesday selected Barron as FSU's 14th president, hoping his national reputation and experience at two highly regarded research institutions will help FSU boost its research profile and fundraising prowess.
"I truly believe this is a university that has tremendous potential and is ready to go to the next level," said Barron, 58, a 1973 FSU graduate.
The unanimous vote came despite some trustees' concerns that the search committee did not recommend more than one candidate for them to consider. Barron was one of 26 applicants and one of three invited to campus for interviews.
"Never in my dreams did I think the number (of recommended candidates) would be one," said trustees vice chairman Harold Knowles. "The problem I've got is not Dr. Barron. My concern is that we did not cast a broad enough net to get others like him."
But search committee members, including students and faculty, assured trustees that Barron was the best choice.
"It became very clear that he can handle all the constituents of this institution — students, faculty, staff, donors, everybody," said longtime music professor Clifford Madsen.
Echoed student Adam Fox, 21, of South Florida: "He speaks from a student perspective. I can see him walking around campus, eating with students in the dining hall."
T.K. Wetherell, FSU's president since 2003, announced this summer plans to retire in early 2010.
Search committee members initially expressed dismay that the applicant pool to replace Wetherell was lackluster. But when Barron visited the campus last week for interviews he emerged as the frontrunner for his views on leadership, fundraising and building relationships.
"When you think of the strong support that came from students, from faculty, from staff, from the search board, I think we have a responsibility to remember that," said trustees chairman Jim Smith, who served on the search committee. "I'm excited that we've got people in our university who are so excited about the potential he has as president."
Barron's experience in university fundraising also is vital, Smith said, because FSU needs to launch a billion-dollar fundraising campaign.
Still, Knowles complained the search was "truncated" and said the trustees were not involved enough in the search process.
"For us to be boxed in with one choice, I am concerned about it," he said. "But I think this gentleman is a dynamic person and would do well at this institution."
Barron, married with two college-age children, is a nationally renowned climatologist who has since last year served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Barron served as dean at Penn State and the University of Texas, which both enjoy membership in the prestigious 62-member Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group that FSU aspires to join. The University of Florida is the only institution in the state with AAU membership.
When trustee Knowles asked Barron whether his experience leading small science colleges at Penn State and UT will translate into leading a university of some 41,000 students, Barron didn't hesitate.
"The experience that is essential is to hire good people and get out of their way," he said. "Because I had the right people. ... The president is an advocate — for the students and for the faculty."
Trustees now will negotiate Barron's contract. Wetherell's base salary is now $315,545, plus benefits such as club memberships, a car and an annual bonus of up to $75,000. Taxpayer dollars cover $225,000; the rest comes from private donations.