Leadership & Governance

Penn State Taps Florida State Chief as New President

Nabil K. Mark, Centre Daily Times, MCT, Getty Images

Eric J. Barron, a onetime Penn State dean, will lead the university starting in May.
February 17, 2014

Pennsylvania State University concluded one of higher education’s most closely watched executive searches on Monday, luring Florida State University’s president to head Penn State, which is still recovering from a high-profile child-sex-abuse scandal.

Eric J. Barron, a former Penn State dean who took the helm at Florida State four years ago, will assume the Penn State presidency in May, university officials said.

Penn State is known to elevate people to leadership with long histories at the institution, and Mr. Barron is no exception. From 1986 to 2006, he held various titles at the university, including professor of geosciences and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Before his appointment at Florida State, Mr. Barron was director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally supported institution in Colorado.

Mr. Barron will succeed Rodney A. Erickson, who advanced from provost to president in 2011 following the dismissal of Graham B. Spanier, the university’s longtime leader. Mr. Spanier was among three high-level administrators to lose their jobs in connection with the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted in 2012 on 45 counts related to sex abuse. (He is serving at least 30 years in prison.)

Karen B. Peetz, a trustee and chairwoman of Penn State's presidential-search committee, said on Monday that Mr. Barron was the right person to lead the university at this "pivotal" moment.

Volatile Search

Monday’s announcement concluded what had been a volatile search at Penn State. The university appeared poised to name a new leader in October but abruptly changed course. Trustees had planned to give the job to David R. Smith, the head of a medical campus of the State University of New York, the Times Union newspaper, in Albany, N.Y., reported.

But Dr. Smith, a pediatrician, was removed from consideration when questions arose about unauthorized payments he may have received from companies that do business with the medical campus, the newspaper said.

Mr. Erickson, Penn State’s current president, was charged with restoring order at Penn State after the sex-abuse scandal, and his administration has reached legal settlements with most of the victims who brought claims against the institution. But other legal issues are likely to play out during Mr. Barron’s presidency.

Mr. Spanier is expected to stand trial on charges that he failed to report Mr. Sandusky’s crimes and tried to cover up what he knew. Timothy M. Curley, a former athletics director, and Gary C. Schultz, a former senior vice president, also face charges.

Generous Compensation

Penn State’s board approved a five-year contract for Mr. Barron, who will earn a base salary of $800,000 and $200,000 in bonuses each year, multiple news outlets reported. At the conclusion of the contract, he will be paid another $1-million.

Mr. Barron’s generous compensation package at Penn State is in keeping with past practices at the university, where Mr. Spanier was a perennial leader in presidential pay. Mr. Spanier earned $2.9-million in the final year of his presidency, making him the nation’s highest-paid president in 2011-12.

At Florida State, Mr. Barron earned $588,146 in 2012, trailing more than 50 other public-university presidents in total earnings.