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Penn State Science Leaders Say Barron is Right Choice for President

by on February 18, 2014 6:00 AM

The next Penn State president, Eric Barron, hasn't officially started his new gig yet, but he can take credit for Penn State employing a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

It was Barron, as head of Penn State's Earth System Science Center, who hired Richard B. Alley, one of the authors on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose members shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

But it is Alley who describes Barron as an innovator in climate change science.

"(Barron) was a pioneering scientist in combining modern climate science with the geological record of climate changes to improve the understanding of both," Alley says.

Barron tested models against the climate record, and helped understand the climate record from the climate science, and learned about the effects of drifting continents and changing ocean circulation and other influences on the climate, Alley says.

"Our understanding that (carbon dioxide) has been the 'biggest control knob' on the earth's climate over long times rests in part on Eric's work," Alley says.

Alley says Barron is a team-builder.

"The people he hired or helped hire went into several departments, so he worked hard to help them know each other and work together through the research center, as well as to integrate into those departments," Alley says.

Alley says Barron also has vision "as shown by his own research choices, and the directions in which he led the center and then the college when he was dean."

Penn State's Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday afternoon to hire Barron, the current president at Florida State University, as the 18th president at Penn State.

Barron, 62, is no stranger to Penn State, having worked here for 20 years. 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.

As dean, Barron brought Michael Mann, the current director of Penn State's Earth System Science Center, to Penn State.

Mann is pleased with the Barron's decision to return to Penn State.

"He is not only a great scientist, but a highly respected academic, and a consummate administrator and leader," Mann said in an e-mail. "He has everything one might want in a president that can help lead Penn State forward in the 21st Century."

Jenni Evans, professor of meteorology, says Barron was the director of the Earth System Science Center within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences when she arrived to Penn State. She had a joint appointment between the ESSC and the department of meteorology.

"Eric was a very positive and enthusiastic director, excited about the science we were all doing. His own interests were climate change and paleoclimate (climates of the distant past)," Evans said in an e-mail. "He was always full of ideas and ready to give people the resources to succeed. He was the dean of EMS for a few years before he left, but it didn't seem to change his positive professional demeanor. He created a great working environment."

Evans added, "I think Eric will be a terrific president and look forward to this new era."

Lee Kump, head of the geosciences department, worked with Barron for 20 years as a fellow faculty member.

"Dr. Barron has a clear vision for the path toward excellence in all that a university pursues." Kump says. "He also has an international reputation as a climate scientist and a unique knack for organizing diverse groups into productive collaborations."

Kump says Barron's "crowning achievement" as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences was the establishing a student-centric college through the Ryan Family Student Center. Kump says the center is a home for all earth and mineral science students where they can study, work collaboratively and socialize.

Barron's five-year contract begins May 12, with the opportunity for Barron to start sooner if he chooses. Barron will have 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 will replace Rodney Erickson's whose two-year contract expires in June. Erickson is expected to retire when Barron takes over the presidential duties.

Erickson replaced Graham Spanier following Spanier's Nov. 9, 2011 exit. Spanier served as president for 16 years.

Spanier, along with 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 the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Sandusky is serving 30-60 years in prison for sexually abusing boys.

Erickson's short-term contract with Penn State, dated Nov. 10, 2011, ends June 30, 2014, or earlier if both parties agree. The original contract included a $515,000 annual salary, which increased following a Board of Trustees evaluation. Erickson's salary increased in December 2012 by $85,000 to $600,000. View the contract terms by clicking HERE.

Erickson is perhaps best known for signing the consent decree between Penn State and the NCAA, in which the university agreed to harsh sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal.

The sanctions included a $60 million fine that is slated to go toward prevention of child sexual abuse and assist victims, a four-year ban on participation in bowl games, and a reduction in football scholarships.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for 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.
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