STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State’s trustees did not disguise their satisfaction as they named one of the school’s former administrators to become its next president.
The board voted unanimously on Monday to hire Florida State University president Eric Barron to lead the university after more than two years of turmoil following the arrest of former longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges.
Barron, 62, had worked at Penn State for two decades, including four as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and the board and top administrators were clearly happy to welcome him back.
“He has had a series of varied experiences since he left Penn State eight years ago, and all of those life experiences have shaped him into an energetic and data-driven leader,” said Nan Crouter, the dean of the school’s College of Health and Human Development and a leader in the presidential search.
Outgoing Penn State president Rodney Erickson, who has known Barron for 28 years, called Barron “a person of the highest integrity” and someone with strong academic values.
“The Penn State presidency couldn’t be in better hands,” Erickson said.
The choice of Barron was also applauded by Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the Washington, D.C.-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit education policy group. But Poliakoff was critical of Barron’s $1 million annual pay package and said the selection process was flawed.
“It is a warning against the opaque process that’s highly delegated, and an admonition that this board in particular, that really got into a very rocky situation for the university in the Sandusky scandal, needs to be engaged, heavily — not just a committee of them,” Poliakoff said.
Erickson was named president in November 2011 after then-president Graham Spanier was forced out following child molestation accusations against Sandusky, who is now 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.
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.
Barron is expected to lead Penn State through the trial of Spanier and two other former administrators who also are accused of a criminal cover-up related to the Sandusky matter. A trial date has not been scheduled.
Barron 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.”
Maribeth Roman Schmidt, spokeswoman for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a grassroots alumni group that has been highly critical of the trustees and administration, said the choice of Barron was getting positive reviews, at least at this point.
“I think there’s a guarded optimism, but for everything we’ve seen in the short amount of time, we’re certainly excited for the experience he brings and the open mind that he brings,” she said.
During his four years at Florida State, Barron has been an aggressive advocate for increased state funding and academic recognition for the university. He shocked FSU trustees Saturday by publicly talking about leaving.
Barron joined Penn State’s faculty in 1986 as director of the Earth System Science Center and associate professor of geosciences. In 2002, he was elevated from director of the university’s Earth and Mineral Sciences Environment Institute to dean of the school’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
In 2006, Barron left State College to become dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008, Barron became director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., where years earlier, he was a geology graduate student. Two years later, he moved on to Florida State, where he became the university’s 14th president.
Like Penn State, Florida State 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, a year-old sexual assault complaint against Winston became public and was passed along by Tallahassee police to the Florida state attorney’s office for a full investigation. A Florida State student accused Winston of raping her. Winston’s attorney has said the sex was consensual. Prosecutors did not find enough evidence to charge him with a crime and the case was closed Dec. 5, two days before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Barron had cautioned against a rush to judgment in the case. And, after no charges were to be filed, he issued a strong statement.