Eric Barron: In His Own Words
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.”
This analogy prompted board chair Keith Masser ’73, who’s president of a eighth-generation potato farm, to quip, “Dr. Barron, your father would have made a great farmer. That’s precisely the advice you give someone when you want to plow a great furrow.”
Auto Analogy No. 2: In discussing why college students don’t take full advantage of the opportunities available at universities, Barron called Penn State “sort of the educational equivalent of an American sports car,” like a “blue and white Corvette” or a Mustang. He said, “We need to ask, ‘Why is it that so many students drive it 20 miles an hour when there is so much that is worthwhile?’” His point: universities need to engage students.
Barron also answered questions about some of the major issues facing Penn Sate. Here’s what he said:
On the Sandusky scandal and how the aftermath has been handled: “If Penn State touches you during your life, then you love this university. You don’t have really have a choice. So of course the events were incredibly painful and saddening to all those people that love Penn State University. But what I see is an institution that has really taken care of compliance and is no doubt now a model university that I think a lot of other universities are going to look at and say, ‘This is the way we should be operating.’ … This is truly the Penn State way. If we find something that we’re not doing well, we turn around and make sure we are doing it well.”
On Joe Paterno and how Penn State should recognize him: “My feeling is the wisest answer is to tell you to give me some time, OK? I watched all of his great strengths as a faculty member and as a dean and as someone who loves the institution, but in my view, whatever we do we have to make sure that we do it with a high sense of dignity and honor. And sometimes that takes time.”
On public funding for higher education: I’m a firm believer that elected officials have to have confidence that we are spending money wisely, and they have to have confidence that we are committed to ensuring the success of the students that come here. … Every time I go in there and I say, ‘This is what I’m going to spend money on,’ if they give me those funds I’m going to come right back the next year and say, ‘This is what we spent the money on.’”
On what he learned from dealing with Florida’s state legislature: “This really goes back to how can a legislator be comfortable that you’re a wise steward of taxpayer money and that you’re doing things that serve our students in making sure they are successful. I have typically played the role, when people say we need to do this, this, and this, to say, ‘OK. I’m there with you, but if you really want to do this right, here is the way to measure. I welcome the notion that you want to measure this university. I need to give you confidence that we’re doing a good job, but here’s the way that I think.’
“So it’s not me saying, ‘Oh, please, please, we know what we’re doing, OK?’ It’s instead, ‘I’ve got it; I need to help build your confidence. You need to know that we’re doing the right thing. So let’s took together at what these metrics and measures should be, and we can talk about those that work well, those for which they set national standards, those for which everybody has the belief that the metric is valuable—those you can measure.’
“I’m not perfect … but I think in the state of Florida the legislators know that I’m an honest broker and that I will be careful and thoughtful to the best of my ability.”
On Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of rape but not charged, and then led the Seminoles to a national championship: “It’s incredibly important that an institution follow due process, that we let the police do their jobs and the district attorneys do their jobs, and, if it goes to that point, to have the courts do their jobs. And for the university to respect that. If you examine what occurred with Jameis Winston, there were many alumni that were looking and saying, ‘This man became a Heisman candidate and we move to No. 2 in the polls and that’s why this is happening.’ And so there is the sense you must support the quarterback because look at this impact. And we’re so sure of what’s right or wrong in this particular case.
“The thing that concerns me—without any comment on the individual that brought the charge—is the environment that places any victim that’s out there to feel that pressure of press and alumni. I worry that any victim would want to come forward if that’s the case.
“Because that story was played out in the press so thoroughly before any details of the police investigation, before any of the decisions of the district attorney … that’s why I said in my statement that I thought the entire university was hurt. I have an obligation to protect all of our students and not to take sides.”
On how the Winston situation will affect how he deals with the continuing aftermath of the Sandusky scandal: “The statement that I made about the commitment to all of our students and a commitment to due process is one that I believe in thoroughly. This is not one where the university president stands up and picks sides, and nor would I encourage anybody else in the institution to choose sides. We have to let those people, the professionals, do their job and respect due process.”
Lori Shontz, senior editor