Barron could be leader to heal PSU
Penn State introduced its new president on Monday, and its latest search was successful on several fronts.
For one, former Florida State President Eric Barron brings an impressive resume in research, fundraising and community building, and having previously spent 20 years of his career as a professor and administrator at Penn State, he appears to know what he’s getting into and brings a heart for the job.
Second, it was a victory of sorts for the Penn State Board of Trustees simply to be able to get Barron to the podium since two months ago, with the search seemingly complete, an announcement was suddenly called off.
It was later reported that the choice, State University of New York Upstate Medical University President David R. Smith, was not selected after a background check brought concern that he was padding his state pay.
Smith resigned from SUNY shortly after the allegations surfaced.
That embarrassment cast further doubt on the ability of PSU’s beleaguered board, to be sure, but Barron has apparently survived all clearances, and Penn State may ultimately benefit from the gaffe of its previous search.
Third, Barron’s appointment also makes sense in that he’s quite familiar with the big-time sports landscape and how it can affect the overall perception of a university, both positively and negatively.
The extreme challenges Penn State encountered from the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky stemmed in part from the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno.
Because Florida State parted company with its own legendary football coach, Bobby Bowden, whose departure in 2009 was not voluntary, Barron, who served FSU from 2010, has experience with the aftermath of a coaching icon who did not go out on his own terms.
That experience should serve him well, since one of the first issues he encountered Monday concerned how he intended to handle honoring Paterno.
Barron showed he was prepared for the question. He said he wanted to deal with Paterno’s legacy with a high sense of dignity and honor, but added, “My feeling is, the wisest answer is to tell you to give me time, OK?”
Another positive to the culmination of the search was the fact that Barron was approved unanimously. Most high level hirings are delivered with 100 percent approval — at least publicly – but the Penn State board has sometimes operated like the Hatfields and McCoys since everything unraveled in November 2011.
In that regard, Barron is coming to Penn State at a good time.
He certainly does not have a tough act to follow since Graham Spanier resigned in disgrace as one of three high-ranking PSU officials charged with covering up Sandusky’s abuse. Interim President Rodney Erickson was only a stop-gap alternative while the search was being conducted; he announced early in 2012 that he’d be retiring in 2014.
Here’s hoping Eric Barron can be the leader who helps heal Penn State as it attempts to move on from its disheartening scandal, one from which we have all learned, while anticipating brighter days ahead for this great university.