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Next Penn State President Talks Sandusky, FSU Rape Allegations and Joe Paterno

by on February 17, 2014 2:31 PM

The man who will be Penn State University's 18th president addressed many issues facing the university community Monday afternoon.

Eric Barron, who currently serves as president at Florida State University, gave remarks before the Board of Trustees after the board unanimously agreed to hire Barron at a special public meeting at the Penn Stater Conference Center.

Barron also answered questions from the news media during a press conference immediately after the vote.

Barron joins Penn State at a time when tensions are high among alumni and the board of trustees and as the university's reputation is on the line - all stemming from the child abuse sex scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Barron also joins Penn State as former President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, and retired Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz face multiple criminal charges, including perjury and failing to report child abuse related to Sandusky.

Barron has experience leading a university under scrutiny related to a rape allegation involving an FSU football player. Barron says he can bring what he learned through that process to Penn State, including possessing a commitment to due process, making an effort to protect all students, and being a president who "doesn't stand up and pick sides."

In the case of FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, Barron says the story played out in the press before authorities completed their criminal investigation.

"It's incredibly important that an institution follow due process, let the police and district attorney do their jobs, and if it goes to that point, the courts, let them do their jobs and respect that," Barron says. "I have an obligation to protect all of our students and to not choose sides. ... We have to let those people...do their jobs."

Barron, who worked at Penn State for 20 years earlier in his career, also offered his reaction to the Sandusky scandal that resulted in the NCAA issuing unprecedented sanctions against the Penn State football program.

"If Penn State touches you during your life then you love this university, you don't really have a choice. Of course those events were incredibly painful and saddening to all those people that loved Penn State University, but what I see is a university that has really taken control of compliance and is no doubt now a model (for other universities)," Barron says.

In terms of how Penn State will approach the legacy of former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, Barron says such a decision will take time.

"I watched all of his great strengths as a faculty member, as a dean, as someone who loves this institution, but in my view is whatever we do we have to make sure that we do it with a high sense of dignity and honor and sometimes that takes times," Barron says.

Barron's five-year contract begins May 12, with the opportunity for Barron to start sooner, at an annual salary of $800,000. The contract also includes a one-time payment of $200,000 upon hire followed by a $200,000 retention payment at the end of the year for the last four years of the contract. Upon completion of the five-year contract, the university will pay Barron $1 million.

Barron, 62, worked at Penn State from 1986 to 2006. He was a professor of geosciences, director of the Earth System Science Center, director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Environmental Institute, and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Barron says it's unlikely he will have time to teach while serving as president.

"It' just truly a dream come true to be here and to be the next president of Penn State University"

Barron says one of his goals will be to find ways to better engage students. He compared a Penn State education to that of a blue and white sports car that most students only drive at 20 mph. He says more students need to take full advantage of what Penn State offers.

Penn State needs to "engage students so that they put this great university through its paces as opposed to driving it at 20 mph. ... Penn State can do this better than any other institution with incredibly positive outcomes for our students."

Barron will be replacing President Rodney Erickson, whose two-year contract ends in June. Erickson, who has known Barron for 28 years, praised trustees for their selection during the special meeting Monday.

"You have found a leader who will help realize the very best of this institution," Erickson says.

Barron became Florida State University's 14th president in 2010 where he oversaw 16 colleges with nearly 41,000 students. Florida State is one of the largest of the 11 institutions in the State University System of Florida.

He previously served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. He also served as dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin from 2006 to 2008.

He graduated from FSU in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in geology. He has master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Miami.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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