STATE COLLEGE - Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the Board of Trustees found "a person of the highest integrity" in its president-elect, Eric Barron.
Erickson said he's known Barron, who was unanimously named to the post by the Board of Trustees on Monday, for 28 years and thinks he "will successfully lead Penn State into the future."
"The Penn State presidency couldn't be in better hands," Erickson said.
Barron, who spent two decades as a professor and administrator at Penn State and most recently served as president of Florida State University, is scheduled to begin his term as president on May 12, though he could take office sooner.
Until then, he will serve as president-elect to ease the transition from Erickson's administration.
Barron said it was hard to stay away from PSU after falling in love with it.
"If Penn State touches you during your life, then you love this university," he said. "You don't really have a choice."
Penn State trustees, officials and faculty members involved in the presidential search heaped praise on Barron, saying he would be a strong advocate for academics and research.
"He has demonstrated strengths in fiscal matters, strategic planning, leadership and communication, and his track record for partnering with the community is stellar," said Karen Peetz, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees' Presidential Selection Council.
Barron will make $800,000 a year as president, with a $200,000 bonus within 30 days of taking office. He will also earn an additional $200,000 retention payment each year for the remainder of his term, which ends on June 30, 2019. If Barron reaches the end of his tenure, he will be paid a $1,000,000 completion bonus.
He will also live in the Schreyer House, the official residence of the university's president, with utilities and maintenance paid for by Penn State.
Barron, 62, was first hired at Penn State in 1986 as a professor of geosciences and director of the Earth Systems Science Center and became the dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 2002. He left the university in 2006 to take over as dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas. After two years, he left Austin to serve as the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
In 2010, Barron became the president at FSU, where he earned his bachelor's degree. During his tenure at Florida State, the university was named the most efficient in the country twice by U.S. News & World Report.
In a letter to the students and faculty at Florida State, posted on the university's website, Barron said he was thankful for his time there and that his love for the university will "never change."
"I am very proud of my university and its progress over the last four years," he said. "And so, I find myself ready for the next challenge."
Florida State's Board of Trustees will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss its upcoming presidential search. In a news release, officials at FSU wished Barron well.
"President Barron has been an exceptional leader for Florida State, and Penn State has made an excellent choice in selecting him as their next president," said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Garnett S. Stokes.
Peetz said both the trustees' search council and the university's Presidential Search and Screen Committee - made up of Penn State faculty and students - reached out to more than 400 people about the presidency, and spoke to 150 more about possible recommendations for the post. Barron said he did not apply for the job when the search began because he felt there was "still more to do" at Florida State.
He implied that he applied for the position recently, but neither he nor Peetz or Nan Crouter, chairwoman of the university committee, would comment on when exactly that happened, and if was before or after Penn State's attempt to hire State University of New York Upstate Medical University President David R. Smith in early November.
Smith was not selected after a background check brought concern that he was padding his state pay. He resigned from SUNY shortly after allegations surfaced.
"I think a search should be judged by the results of the search," Crouter said.
Barron said he did not develop a list of goals to accomplish as president but said he has a "full sense of [Penn State's] strengths." He will work to "understand the institution better," he said, and work from there.
When asked about remembering and honoring former head football coach Joe Paterno, Barron said he wanted to deal with Paterno's legacy with a "high sense of dignity and honor," which may not happen immediately.
"My feeling is, the wisest answer is to tell you to give me time, OK?" he said.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano asked for Barron and university officials to "remember due process" in the case of Paterno and also for three former Penn State administrators who are charged in connection to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz face charges that they covered up Sandusky's abuse.
Paterno was never charged. Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of sex abuse and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Lubrano said he thinks that there is still progress to be made in the healing process, and that it is important to remember Paterno's contributions to Penn State.
"The elephant in the room remains the same as it was on Nov. 9, 2011: a man named Paterno," he said.
Paterno was removed from the head coaching position by the board on that date.
Barron and his wife, Molly, were also praised for their influence in the Penn State and State College community during their previous stint there. Barron served on the State College school board and his wife is also a "passionate advocate for education," Peetz said.
Barron said he and his wife will do everything they can to make the community proud and continue to "make a great university even greater."
Board of Trustees Chairman Keith Masser said Barron's familiarity with the university and the surrounding community will be a great asset in the years ahead.
"We are thrilled to have a Penn Stater return to us," Masser said.