For the second day in a row, I find myself wrapping up the Board of Trustees meeting by starting at the end.
Just as board chair Keith Masser ’73 was preparing to adjourn the Friday’s meeting, Al Clemens ’59 jumped in to read a statement. He got right to the point, announcing that he was resigning from the board.
Clemens, a gubernatorial appointee, joined the board in 1995 and was the only one of the four trustees remaining as plaintiffs in the Paterno family’s lawsuit against the NCAA who was on the board when the Sandusky scandal broke. As a result, he is the only one of the trustees who was found to have standing to sue on the claim of defamation.
He said the board didn’t have much information or time to discuss the issues when it voted quickly on Nov. 9, 2011, to fire Joe Paterno: “I will always regret that my name is attached to that rush to injustice.”
He indicated, as well, that hiring Louis Freeh and accepting his conclusions “without review” was another mistake and that he joined the Paterno family’s lawsuit in an attempt to “reverse the misguided sanctions that were designed to punish a football program without blemish.”
He also said his resignation was in keeping with his belief in term limits; the current limit is 12 years, but members including Clemens were grandfathered in when that change was made. He has served for 19 years.
Clemens’ term on the board actually expired in 2012, according to the trustees’ website; staff from the trustees office said that there’s often a long lag between when a governor-appointed trustee’s term expires and when the governor nominates a replacement. Gov. Tom Corbett announced in late February that he was nominating Cliff Benson ’71 and Todd Rucci ’92 to fill the seats of Clemens and Ira Lubert ’73. Those nominations must still be confirmed by the state senate.
Lubert’s term technically ended in 2013, as did the term of vice chair Paul Silvis ’06g, for whom a replacement has not been announced. The terms of two other governor appointees, student Peter Khoury and Mark Dambly ’80, expire in 2014.
Also noteworthy from the meeting:
Alumni election changes pass: All alumni who have email addresses on file with the university will receive ballots in the upcoming alumni trustee election. Trustees unanimously passed a motion to change the procedure in the university’s charter; previously, only alumni who are Alumni Association members or have donated to the university in the past two years automatically received ballots, although any alum could request one.
After the issue was debated and unanimously passed in the January governance committee meeting, Penn State sent postcards to 186,610 alumni without email addresses on file, governance chair Keith Eckel said Thursday during the committee meeting. The cost: $82,000.
Eckel said Thursday that only 400 of the cards had been returned and noted that while he thought reaching out to alumni was the right thing to do, the “somewhat disappointing” rate of return meant that the gesture likely doesn’t need to be repeated. At Friday’s meeting, he said he’d been told that the number of returned postcards had increased to 700.
The alumni election starts April 10, and alumni still have time to return the cards. All of these changes are taking place after the nomination process for alumni trustees, which ran from mid-January to late February. In the future, all alums with email addresses on file will receive both a nomination form and an election ballot.
Public comment: After several meetings in which the number of speakers during the public comment session shrunk, nine speakers were announced for Friday’s meeting, although only seven showed up to speak. Also in contrast to recent meetings, when speakers covered a variety of issues, most criticized how the board has handled to the Sandusky scandal.
Ceil Massella, an alumna and wife of football letterman Brian, told the board, “Just as I always think of the shooting when think of Kent State, this university will always be associated with Sandusky’s guilt unless the record is set straight.”
Evan Smith ’11 asked the board, “What are you personally doing with your position of power to help serve the Penn State family? How are you helping us fight this battle of public perception?”
Several speakers also reiterated their belief that the board owes an apology to the family of Joe Paterno.
Facts and figures: President Rod Erickson said applications for 2014-15 baccalaureate admission have increased by 9,000 over last year—19 percent at University Park and 8 percent at the commonwealth campuses. Out-of-state applications are up 26 percent, and international applications are up 18 percent. Minority applications he said, are running 16 percent of last year.
He also said that the quality of applicants is higher: Their average SAT score is 20 percent greater than last year’s.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Perhaps in this case, the best place to start is the end.
Two hours into the Board of Trustees’ governance and long-range planning committee meeting Thursday afternoon in Hershey, chair Keith Eckel decided the group needed another session before its next scheduled meeting in May. The board’s governance consultant, Holly Gregory, agreed and pushed for a substantial chunk of time to find some consensus on what reforms to pursue—and to understand why those reforms are needed.
“We need to drill down,” Gregory said. “I’m still really, really challenged because I need to make sure we have a sense of what we are trying to move on. And it’s difficult to come up with ideas of what we’re going to do when we don’t know what we’re trying to achieve. That was my hope. I have some sense of that on the size (of the board) issue, but we haven’t had the time to go down as deep as I’d like.”
Then she added, “I’m supposed to help facilitate. Not come up with my own reform proposal. I can easily come up with one based on what I’ve heard, but that really isn’t the task as I understand that.”
The committee members and Penn State staff pulled out their calendars and started tossing out suggestions. None worked. (Perhaps a suggestion from the media seats—why not do a Doodle poll?—would have helped.) These are busy people, people with calendars full of other board meetings, vacations, grandchildren. The upcoming celebration of Penn State’s capital campaign took up a few days, as did the ag trustees election and the counting of alumni election votes. At one point, Anthony Lubrano ’82, one of the board’s most vocal critics, even after joining it, noted a week he was unavailable, prompting Jim Broadhurst ’64, an executive committee member and former board chair who has served since 1998, to quip, “Might be a good week to have it, then.”
Everyone laughed, even Lubrano, who said, “I gave you a softball, Jim—if you couldn’t hit that one …”
Consensus was almost impossible to find. They tentatively settled on May 7, the day before the officially scheduled governance committee meeting, and according to attorney Frank Guadagnino ’78, responding to a question from Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, that meeting should be open to the public.
It’s no secret, of course, that Penn State’s board is divided and that proceeding on the next part of governance reform, which involves the size and composition of the board, plus qualifications for trustees, was going to be difficult. That’s why the governance committee said it hired Gregory, to help members find the right path.
The board’s stated intent is to vote on a reform package in the fall. But the trustees entered Thursday’s meeting, their first public discussion on reform with Gregory, having not yet determined which data they needed or which universities they wanted to use as benchmarks. After a lengthy back-and-forth, that was settled. (And if they want more data, they are welcome to check out a feature from our July/August 2012 issue in which we compared the size and composition of Penn State’s board to those of other Big Ten, land-grant, and Pennsylvania universities.)
Even a potential reform that has widespread support—the addition of a permanent student trustee, necessary because there’s no guarantee of student representation, only a tradition that a student is of the six trustees appointed by the governor—required a sustained, sometimes contentious, discussion.
The issue has some urgency because the current student trustee, Peter Khoury, is graduating in May, and the board realized that unless it acts, it could be without a student representative when tuition is set at its July meeting. Eckel said Gov. Tom Corbett has assured that he will select Khoury’s successor in plenty of time to have the selection ratified by the state senate, but the committee wanted a back-up plan in case that doesn’t work.
The plan: for the committee to vote on the permanent student trustee reform immediately, but bring the item to the full board for the necessary approval only if the process in place now hasn’t moved forward by the next meeting. There’s a chance that the full board will not vote on this in May. But this action separated the student trustee from the rest of the reform package, which does not yet exist.
The student trustee position involves three changes: The size of the board would increase from 32 members to 33 (both numbers include non-voting trustees) because the governor would still have six appointments. The board itself would select the student trustee, but the University Park Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Association, and the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments would recommend that student. And the student trustee term would be two years, not three, to make it less likely that students would have to choose a freshman.
Barbara Doran ’75 suggested that Khoury stay on, that he could still represent student interests as an extremely recent graduate. (His term doesn’t officially expire until November; he has agreed to resign to make way for a student-chosen trustee.) The committee’s student representative, Molly Droelle, the president of CCSG, said that is unacceptable to students: “That’s a very strong point for us.”
Vice president for administration Tom Poole told the committee that the governor makes his decision after student organizations recommend one or two candidates and the state secretary of education (also a trustee) interviews the candidates. Richard Dandrea ’77 noted that the board could decide to make the student trustee position permanent but officially designate that trustee as one of the governor’s appointees.
“Not in the eyes of the students,” Droelle said. “That’s not the proposal.”
“I know that’s in the eyes of the students,” Dandrea said. “I like your vigorous advocacy. I’ll write your recommendation for law school. But I’m just saying, that’s another alternative we should consider.”
That idea was discussed but never brought forth for official consideration.
Lubrano objected to the item because it was separated from other potential reforms and because while the issue of the student trustee has been discussed generally in committee, he hadn’t seen this official proposal until the meeting. He insisted on a roll call vote, and the proposal passed 8-1, with his dissent.
“It’s imprudent to move forward with one part without talking about the whole,” he said.
Dealing with that whole, however, is proving difficult. And the proverbial devil, it became clear as the meeting progressed, is not only in the details, but in the overall philosophies of board members.
Board reform became a hot topic after the Sandusky scandal, when the board was criticized for its actions, particularly not knowing that Jerry Sandusky was under investigation before he was charged, the decision to fire Joe Paterno and how it was carried out, and the handling of the Freeh report. Alumni trustee Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, who was on the board in 2011 and is not running for re-election, addressed that issue head-on late in Thursday’s meeting.
She referenced a report by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges from the late 2000s that cited Penn State’s board as a model of good governance because of the diversity of constituencies represented on the board (alumni, agriculture, business, state officials) and the diversity of ways in which they are chosen (direct election, self-selection, appointees).
“I don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said. “And also, since eight years ago … there’s been a steady evolution toward board reform that means every member of this board is more included and feels more engaged. Really, it’s been a revolution.
“And I think what we are doing here today is on a continuum. I just don’t want us to lose sight of that. Just because we had a terrible thing happen, suddenly we have this terrible system. I don’t believe that.”
Doran, a private wealth manager at Morgan Stanley who was elected by the alumni post-scandal, answered by citing the nation’s financial crisis of 2008. “Most of the banks concerned were very well run, had risk management systems, everything looked good—and then fell apart when they failed the ultimate stress test. … A stress came (to Penn State), and it hurt us. Wall Street has been undergoing massive reform. I think that’s where we are now. We need to continue to look at how to improve.”
Alexander, one of two voting members of the board with a higher education background, responded, “I don’t like the idea of Penn State being compared to those financial institutions.”
Replied Doran, “It’s out there.”
The back-and-forth called back to how Gregory began her section of the meeting, which was billed on the agenda as “facilitated discussion of governance considerations with consultant.”
She said: “We need to ask, ‘Is change likely to have a positive result on board effectiveness?’ And also, perception matters here—you govern in public, and having the support of the community is critically important. … I think we have to deal with both issues.”
Those issues have many parts. I’m planning to flesh out some of them in future posts.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
James Franklin, Coming Soon to a Town Near You: The Coaches Caravan returns in May, headlined by James Franklin, who will visit 17 area locales—13 in Pennsylvania, plus forays into Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York City. Among the in-state stops on the tour, which is jointly sponsored by the Alumni Association and the Nittany Lion Club: four Penn State campuses and one event at Franklin’s alma mater, East Stroudsburg. More details on tickets will be coming later this month, but you can click here for the dates and clear your schedule now.
Running strong: Fresh off winning the Big Ten indoor track championship over the weekend, sophomore Kiah Seymour has been named the conference’s Track Athlete of the Championships, and coach Beth Alford-Sullivan earned the conference’s Coach of the Year award for the indoor season. Seymour won the 400 meters and anchored the winning 4×400-meter relay, and she finished second in the 200 meters. Get the full scoop here.
ICYMI on Mike McQueary: ESPN The Magazine on Tuesday published “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand,” a story about Mike McQueary ’97, who will be a central figure in the upcoming trial of Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and Tim Curley ’76, ’78g. If you’ve not yet read it, it’s certainly worth the time.
RIP, EP: Ellen Perry, another of the women who spearheaded the development of Penn State women’s athletics, died Tuesday. She spent 36 years at Penn State, arriving in 1966 as the first coach of the women’s swimming team and retiring in 2002 as associate athletic director and senior woman administrator. Known by everyone as “EP,” Perry was one of those people who had boatloads of knowledge and expertise, but imparted it with a light touch. This Centre Daily Times story quotes Perry from a story about her retirement, and I particularly loved how she basically summed up her life philosophy: “Believe in the goal you’re trying to make and complete and go at it with a well-intended heart. A happy heart works much better than an angry heart.”
Thirty-two alumni are vying for the three open alumni seats on the Board of Trustees this year, showing that interest in the election, which skyrocketed after the Sandusky scandal, remains high. The number of candidates is a slight decrease from 2013, when there were 39, and that in turn was a large decrease from 2012, when there were 86.
The 32 candidates for 2014 include two of the three incumbents, four people who are running for the third consecutive time, and four others who are running for the second time since 2012.
You can see the entire list by clicking here. The list shows the order candidates will appear on the ballot, which was determined Friday afternoon in a blind drawing at the Nittany Lion Inn.
Incumbents Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, who has served on the board since 1969, and Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g, who was first elected in 1981, are running again; Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, who has served two terms starting in 2005, is not.
Running for the third time are Ryan Bagwell ’02; Robert Bowsher ’86; Rudy Glocker ’91, ’93g; and Amy Williams ’80. Two-time candidates are Joshua Fulmer ’01; Robert Hooper ’79; Robert Jubelier ’59, ’62g; and Ted Sebastianelli ’69.
For the third consecutive year, the Alumni Association and The Penn Stater magazine will be organizing a voters’ guide for the election, our “Three Questions for the Candidates” project. We’ll be asking questions of candidates in March—the emails will go out March 7—and the website will go live on or before Thursday, April 3. Voting begins a week later, on Thursday, April 10, and continues through May 8. If you’d like to see what we’ve done in the past, click here for the 2012 responses and here for the 2013 responses.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
National publicity for THON: If you somehow missed it, THON was featured on the ABC Evening News on Tuesday night as part of as segment called “America Strong.” You can watch the clip here and get the backstory in this Collegian story about the water polo team and Brittany Wagner, who’s been the team’s THON child since 2012.
Bars closing again: In the continuing effort to squelch State Patty’s Day, the “student-created holiday” that taxes local police and emergency services and basically is a headache for much of the State College community, more than 30 downtown businesses that serve alcohol will close or not serve it this weekend. According to this Centre Daily Times story, Penn State has spent at least $343,000 over the past two years to compensate bars for not serving alcohol.
Coach Hand, fighting child sex abuse: Offensive coach Herb Hand has gotten a lot of attention on campus for his frequent, personality-filled Twitter feed, but Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports takes a look at Hand’s more serious side. While at Vanderbilt, Hand volunteered with an organization called Our Kids, which advocates for and helps children who have experienced sexual abuse or neglect. So getting the chance to help a community heal from a child-sex abuse scandal was something Hand thought about. “I don’t believe in coincidence,” Hand told Feldman. “I’m certainly not a saint. But I have strong faith and I do believe God has a plan for everybody and they are supposed to be where they’re supposed to be.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Much to his surprise, David Taylor began to cry. He was standing behind the bleachers at Rec Hall with his family Sunday afternoon, watching his teammate, fellow fifth-year senior Ed Ruth, walk out to be honored before their last wrestling match in Rec Hall, and suddenly it hit him. All the hours of work. All the Nittany Lions have accomplished in their four years on the mat. All the people who had supported and sacrificed for him.
Taylor has wrestled a lot of big matches, and he’s got two huge tournaments remaining in his college career—Big Tens and nationals. But he found himself getting keyed up for his final match as he walked onto the mat to be honored by the crowd. He still had tears in his eyes. Said Taylor, “I haven’t been that excited to wrestle in a long time, to be honest with you.”
By the time Taylor actually wrestled, about an hour later, he was so keyed up that he started before the whistle. The referee issued a caution, and Taylor waited a fraction of a second before he went back to work. He pinned Clarion 165-pounder Michael Pavasko in only 11 seconds, the second-fastest pin in Penn State history.
“Sometimes when you’re wrestling, you don’t even know what’s going on until the match is over,” Taylor said. “That 11-second flurry … before I knew it, the match was over.”
As he has for four years, Ruth matched Taylor—both in result and in excitement. Ruth needed a little longer to get his cradle locked up, and Clarion 184-pounder Dustin Conti managed to wriggle out of Ruth’s grasp just a little, but not enough. Ruth won by fall, too. By comparison, his match took forever—1 minute, 5 seconds.
It was a fitting Rec Hall finale for the duo. Each is already a three-time All-American. Ruth has two NCAA titles; Taylor, a three-time finalist, has one. Taylor has 49 career falls, second on Penn State’s all-time list. Ruth is a notch behind Taylor in third place all-time, with 45 falls. Neither ever lost a dual-meet match, either.
Even their coach, who knows a thing or two both about what it takes to excel and how to entertain wrestling fans, took the time afterward to marvel—just a bit—at their overlapping careers.
“I’m just like the people in the stands—I just enjoy watching them wrestle,” Cael Sanderson said. “There’s a lot of great wrestlers, but not a lot of great wrestlers as fun to watch as those two. Just like anybody else, I appreciate the way they compete. Both of them have been very consistent, using every second of the match to score points with very rare, few exceptions to that throughout their career.
“That’s what makes them great. That’s why people will be talking about these two forever.”
They’ll be talking about Sanderson, too, who has turned Penn State from a traditionally strong program into a powerhouse, winning the past three NCAA titles. He couldn’t have done it without Taylor, who had committed to Iowa State when Sanderson coached there but got a release to follow Sanderson to Penn State, or without Ruth, who had been recruited by former coach Troy Sunderland and who swears he didn’t even know who Sanderson was (“the guy whose name is on my shoes …”) but decided, of course, to stay.
One of the great parts of their final Rec Hall post-match media appearance was how each stayed in character.
Taylor, an earnest perfectionist who’s always made an effort to get the crowd into matches, got emotional again as he recounted his day and stressed how many people he need to thank. Ruth, a free spirit who weathered a suspension earlier this season for DUI, declined to expound on his emotions—“I can’t say it any better than he just did,” he said, looking toward Taylor—but later thanked the media for having “welcoming eyes.”
And Sanderson? He appreciated what had happened, but he wanted more. He thought Taylor’s pin took only five or six seconds; the call was a little late because the official had to get the right angle. He thought the four pins in a row—Taylor, 174-pounder Matt Brown, Ruth, and 197-pounder Morgan MacIntosh—was fine, but noted that the Nittany Lions need four pins in a row at Big Tens and NCAAs, too. And he pointed out that Taylor and Ruth still have room for improvement.
“They both need to continue to make progress if they’re going to win Olympic gold medals,” he said. “That never ends. And they both have that mentality.”
After what Penn State wrestling fans have seen for the past four years, who could doubt that?
(Photo gallery below by Tina Hay.)
Lori Shontz, senior editor
A moraler for life: If you’re a Penn Stater, you know THON. And if you know THON, you know that among the key figures on the BJC floor for 46 hours are the moralers, who help dancers stay at least functional, if not perky, through the ordeal. Onward State asks the key question: What if we had moralers for our real lives? The result: This series of videos starring “Max the Life Moraler,” which made associate editor Mary Murphy and me laugh pretty hard Tuesday afternoon in the office. Bet the clips make you laugh, too.
Ty Burrell Media Tour: Ty Burrell ’97g is making the interview rounds promoting his upcoming movie Mr. Peabody and Sherman, a remake of a 1960s cartoon about a genius dog, Mr. Peabody, and a little boy he raises. I’m not sure how I missed that back in the day, but somehow I did. Anyhow, even playing a genius dog can’t make anyone forget Burrell’s breakout role, Phil Dunphy on Modern Family, and in this clip, he discusses his favorite Phil Dunphy scene. It involves an airplane. And he adds, “It’s just so fun playing this big little boy. I’m very lucky.”
State Patty’s Day Prevention: Yet again this year, Penn State will pay downtown bars to not open on State Patty’s Day, the student-created faux-holiday that has become the worst day of the year for area police and EMTs. As explained in this Collegian story, The amount of money will depend on how many the bar serves: It ranges from $7,500 to those with a 350-person occupancy to $2,500 for those with less than 100. For the record, State Patty’s Day this year is Saturday, March 1.
ICYMI Eric Barron interviews: Video of the president elect’s introductory news conference and his interview with WPSU’s Patty Satalia are available online: click here to watch the news conference, and click here to watch the WPSU interview. In other Eric Barron coverage, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette weighs in with an editorial that praised the choice but not the secrecy surrounding the search.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
President-elect Eric Barron seems to like automotive analogies. He rattled off two when he spoke to the Board of Trustees on Monday afternoon, immediately after being named Penn State’s 18th president:
Auto Analogy No. 1: When Barron was learning to drive, his father told him to lift up his head and look not at the hood ornament, but down the road: “You will discover it is much easier to get where you are trying to go.” Barron found that the tip resulted in “a much better driving experience” and also turned out to be a good life philosophy. “Our job, all of our job, is to see down the road, sense the future, and ensure that this great institution is at the forefront of success and achievement.” (more…)
Eric Barron spent 20 years at Penn State, a larger chunk of his professional career than he’s spent anywhere else, by a lot. He called Penn State’s current president, Rod Erickson, formerly his boss in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, “much more than that—he was my mentor.” He said at every job he’s held since leaving Penn State, including his current position as Florida State president, he has taken two lessons he learned here, the “push for excellence and the power of community.”
“In so many ways,” Barron said Monday afternoon, just after being appointed Penn State’s 18th president, “I never left Penn State.”
Which doesn’t mean, Barron stressed, that he knows everything there is to know about this place. He left University Park in 2006 (click here to learn about what he did during the past eight years), and he knows the campus and the entire Penn State system have changed a lot since then.
“I have a lot to learn,” he said. “I want to make sure that I take the time to learn everything that I can. I think it’s a mistake to think that just because I was here eight years ago and for a while, or that because I’m paying attention to what’s going on in the world, that I know everything and can make decisions.”
Barron gave that answer in responding to a question about how he would bridge the divide in Penn State’s community that is one of the lasting effects of the Sandusky scandal, but his need to learn was a theme he sounded throughout his brief media tour Monday afternoon, even when asked about his goals for Penn State.
“The first thing I’d like to do,” he said, “is tap each dean on the shoulder and say, ‘I’d like to spend half a day with you. Show me your physical plant. Tell me those things you brag about. Those things you struggle with.’ Because I do think it’s a mistake to sit here and say, ‘I’ve been a university president for four years and directed a national lab, I know what to do.’ It doesn’t usually work that way. (more…)
We are hours away from being introduced to Penn State’s 18th president: Eric J. Barron, the president of Florida State University and a climatologist who spent 20 years in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, including four as its dean.
Onward State broke the story Friday afternoon, a few hours after Penn State announced that the Board of Trustees had scheduled a special meeting for today. The board’s compensation committee is meeting in executive session at 9 Monday morning, to be followed by an executive session of the full board. The public board meeting starts at noon at The Penn Stater conference center; it’s expected that the board’s vote on Barron will be followed by a news conference. We’ll have full coverage Monday afternoon.
Barron’s recent mentions in the media have centered around the investigation into Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of rape; you can check out his official responses to the news of the accusation and to the decision by Tallahassee officials to not charge Winston here and here.
But a deeper foray into the archives and Google provides a track record that gives insight into how Barron approaches funding issues and controversies, and it illuminates his academic specialty, climatology, as well. No less a respected figure than Richard Alley, Evan Pugh professor of geosciences and a member of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Prize, told the Centre Daily Times that Barron is “one of the real pioneering names in adding climate history to our understanding of climate future.”
This is far from a complete list, but here are some pieces I found interesting:
On state funding and tuition: Like many university presidents, Barron spent a significant amount of his time at Florida State dealing with dwindling state appropriations. (In 2012, Florida State’s appropriation had declined by 25 percent in four years, dating back to before Barron’s tenure.) His circumstance was slightly different, however, in that public universities in Florida can’t set their own tuition rates. When Penn State officials lobby for better funding from the state legislature, they argue that a larger state appropriation will allow them to minimize tuition rates. Barron was lobbying both for more money from the state and for the ability to raise tuition beyond what the Florida government would approve.
In April 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the Career and Professional Education Act, which did increase funding for universities with “pre-eminent” academic programs. As of now, that’s just Florida State and the University of Florida, which will each receive an extra $15 million from the state. (Other universities can get more funding when they meet certain benchmarks.) Barron wrote this op-ed piece that appeared in several Florida newspapers in April. Among the highlights is this paragraph:
Quite simply, we have demonstrated that we know how to invest a dollar in quality. Florida State is currently ranked No. 212 in financial resources among all the 270 ranked national universities. Since 1999, Florida State has dropped 46 places in financial resources compared to its peers, while at the same time achieving its highest quality ratings in 15 years.
On fundraising: When Barron was hired as Florida State’s president in 2010, the initial news story from the St. Petersburg Times made clear that fundraising was one of his charges. (I can’t link to it, sorry; it’s no longer online.) According to the story, trustees had spoken of Barron raising $1 billion for the university’s endowment, which was then $446.8 million. Barron compared Florida State’s development staff to those at the two previous universities at which he’d worked—Texas and Penn State. Texas, he said, had one employee “on the road” raising money for every 3,800 alumni. Penn State, he said, had one employee for every 5,200 alumni. At Florida State, the ratio was one for every 14,000 alumni. Barron told the paper, “We’re not even saying hello.”
Barron did initiate a $1 billion capital campaign, which is about half over.
On changing conferences: At the height of rumors in 2012 that Florida State was considering a move from the ACC to the Big 12, several news outlets obtained an email written by Barron that listed the pros and cons of switching conferences. The list of pros was four short items and focused on improved competition in football and higher revenue. The seven cons fleshed out the fine print of the financial situation, including that Florida State didn’t necessarily have the money it would need to pay to leave the ACC, and included a caution that a switch would not serve the university’s academic mission:
The faculty are adamantly opposed to joining a league that is academically weaker—and in fact, many of them resent the fact that a 2% ($2.4M) deficit in the athletics budget receives so much attention from concerned Seminoles, but the loss of 25% of the academic budget ($105M) gets none when it is the most critical concern of this University in terms of its successful future.
On Bobby Bowden: Given the continuing sentiment that Penn State should honor Joe Paterno in some fashion, I found this piece in the Palm Beach Post particularly interesting: Three years after Bobby Bowden coached his last game, when Barron’s predecessor, T.K. Wetherell, had refused to renew his contract, Barron invited Bowden back to campus to be honored. Bowden’s departure had been contentious—he was so hurt he hadn’t set foot on the campus where he coached for 34 years—but Barron asked him to return to campus for a Bobby Bowden weekend. The culmination: Bowden planted the spear in the field before kickoff. From the story:
“It was important to me all along to make that call,” Barron said. “I knew there needed to be a little bit of space for a lot of different reasons.”
Barron also knew the tribute was necessary because “(so) much of the psyche of the university is tied to this great coach who put football on the map and helped made FSU a household name.”
On academic freedom: Before Barron arrived at Florida State, the economics department received a $1.5 million grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation to hire professors. The arrangement became controversial when it was revealed that contract allowed representatives of the foundation, bankrolled by a billionaire libertarian activist, to screen and approve hires. Barron eventually asked the faculty senate to review the contract; a committee found that the arrangement was improper, and the university changed guidelines to prevent future such incidents.
The Tampa Bay Times editorialized:
FSU leaders—including Barron, who joined the university after the contract was signed—did not initially acknowledge that the university had all but sold influence in the economics department’s operation for a paltry sum. But as more details became public in May, Barron requested the faculty review, and on Friday he ordered various campus leaders to take its recommendations to heart. It’s the right direction, even if it took two months to get there.
On a personal note: In 2011, Tallahassee Magazine did a joint profile of Barron and his wife, Molly, that painted a picture of Barron as a undergrad with long hair who favored “cutoff shorts and sandals” and included this fabulous story of how they met:
The Barrons say the tone for their relationship was set on their very first date. Eric had asked Molly to go on a hike in the mountains—but they had to start early so he could be back in town for a seminar.
“We get in my pickup truck and we’re driving up the mountain and it’s like 6:30 and I yawned,” he recalled. “She said, ‘Am I boring you already?’”
Molly continued the story: “But then he promised me I’d never be bored—and I never have been.”
“That was part of my marriage proposal,” said Eric Barron. “I said, ‘There’s no telling where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing, but I promise you, you won’t be bored.’”
I think I’ll stop there. I didn’t find any anecdotes about Barron that topped that.
Lori Shontz, senior editor