Posts tagged ‘presidential search’

Eric Barron: In His Own Words

DSC_4680_Eric_BarronPresident-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…)

February 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

President-Elect Eric Barron: ‘I Have a Lot to Learn’

President-elect Eric Barron and his wife, Molly, are introduced at Monday's special Board of Trustees meeting.

President-elect Eric Barron and his wife, Molly, are introduced at Monday’s special Board of Trustees meeting.

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…)

February 17, 2014 at 8:02 pm 2 comments

Reading List: Eric Barron, Penn State’s New President

Eric Barron_FSUWe 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.

Here's a photo of Barron, then dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, hanging out with the Nittany Lion.

Here’s a photo of Barron, then dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, hanging out with the Nittany Lion.

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

February 16, 2014 at 10:57 pm 7 comments

One More Update from the BOT

You can read most of our updates from Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting on this post from Friday evening, but here are a few more for your Monday morning:

—Presidential search update: Board chair Keith Masser ’73 opened the meeting with an update on the presidential search process, which was rebooted in November. He said simply that the process is continuing and that “we are on pace to name the next president of Penn State in the months ahead.”

There is a deadline: President Rod Erickson is retiring at the end of June. Or, as he put it two Saturdays ago when a reporter at the news conference introducing James Franklin asked Erickson if he had any update on the search: “My last day of work is June 30, 2014.”

Click here for a piece by Charlie Thompson of The Patriot-News that gets a little more in-depth on the search.

—A new Joe Paterno statue: Joel Myers ‘61, ’63g, ’71g, chair of the outreach committee, didn’t have a committee meeting to report about Friday; the outreach committee meeting was off the agenda (along with the student life committee meeting) to allow enough time for a retreat with governance consultant Holly Gregory. Myers did ask if he could read a brief statement. The topic: that it is time to unite the various factions of Penn Staters.

That’s a theme Myers has sounded periodically, but this time, he quoted Abraham Lincoln (“A house divided cannot stand …”) and proposed that “now is the time” for there to be a statue of Fred Lewis Pattee and Joe Paterno to be erected in front of the library. The Centre Daily Times has full coverage with a story and text of the speech.

—BOT nominations continuing: There’s still plenty of time—until Feb. 26—for alumni to submit their nominations for one of the three alumni seats up for election in 2014. (If you’re a member of the Penn State Alumni Association or have donated to the university within the past two years, you should have received a nomination form in your email. If you’re an alum and would like to request one, click here.)

Mike Dawson ’02 of the Centre Daily Times checked in with the three incumbents—Myers, Jesse Arnelle ’55, ’62g, and Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62—during the meeting to ask whether they are running for re-election; all said they hadn’t decided yet. None of the alumni trustees who were on the board in November 2011 have been re-elected.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

January 20, 2014 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

Oldsey Added to Trustee Presidential Selection Council

Bill Oldsey will join the Trustee Presidential Selection Council.

Bill Oldsey will join the Trustee Presidential Selection Council.

As far as Bill Oldsey ’76 was concerned, the reason he was added to the Trustee Presidential Selection Council was simple. “Some thought I might be able to add value to the process,” he said. “This is all about getting a world-class leader for this university, and I am proud and pleased to do anything I can to help contribute to that.”

The surprise announcement of Oldsey’s appointment, which kicked off Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting, followed what seemed to be several weeks of discussion about the composition of the selection council. Anthony Lubrano ’82 had complained publicly about the fact that only one trustee elected by alumni was on the council, and a good part of Thursday’s meeting of the governance and long-range planning committee was devoted to the presidential search process.

The trustees had originally hoped to vote on a successor to Rod Erickson around this time, but the board’s apparent finalist turned out to have padded his compensation at SUNY’s Upstate Medical School. Board chair Keith Masser ’73 said adding an additional member to the selection council had been discussed  “since we’ve re-set the process, kind of.” He cited the need to reflect the latest additions to the board, who joined after the selection council had been chosen, and he said the specific decision was made because of Oldsey’s “unique experience.”

Oldsey was elected to the board by alumni in 2013 (he also ran in 2012), and he was endorsed by Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship, which has been highly critical of the board’s handling of the Sandusky scandal and more recently of the presidential search process.

He also is one of the few members of the board with a strong background in higher education; Oldsey has worked in educational publishing for 30 years, and his parents were, as he put it, “both academicians.” Said Oldsey, “That’s one of the things I think that made me an interesting candidate when I ran last year.”

Only one other trustee, Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62, has significant experience in higher education; she spent 15 years as executive director and president of the Public Leadership Education Network. (The university president, of course, has higher education experience, but that’s no longer a voting position.)

Oldsey said he believes strongly that any updates about the presidential search need to come from Masser to eliminate the “possibility of problematic communication” when someone else speaks.

“It should also be noted that there are some really extraordinary people on this selection council that would have made good decisions with or without me,” he said.  “But I’m very pleased to be able to do this. I would run through a brick wall for this place to get the right leader, and that’s what this is about.”

Other notes from the Board of Trustees meeting:

Student Anthony Panichelli addresses the board during the public comment session.

Student Anthony Panichelli addresses the board during the public comment session.

—More than half of the speakers during the public comment session were students, who brought up weighty issues affecting students: representation on the Board of Trustees, the effect the Affordable Care Act may have on students by reducing work hours, and student loans. The hottest topic was advocating for a permanent student trustee. The board has included a student since 1973, when then-Gov. Milton Shapp appointed a student, and governors have continued that tradition.

But it is only a tradition. Student government representatives want to guarantee a seat, and they want that trustee to not be appointed by the governor, but chosen by students. Anthony Panichelli, a representative of the University Park Undergraduate Association, told the board that here should “never ever be a question again that there will be proper student representation.”

—The board made two changes to its bylaws: The annual meeting, when trustees choose their officers and take care of “other organizational business,” will now be in July. The annual meeting was previously in January, which did not match up with when new members join the board, which is July. It also added a seventh standing committee, the compensation committee.

As I’ve written in previous posts, this committee would help to determine salaries for several tiers of university officials, ranging from the president (its primary purpose) down through top vice presidents, the athletic director, and even some highly paid coaches.

After speaking with Frank Guadagnino ’78, an outside attorney hired by Penn State to consult on governance issues, I wrote this in September: The trustees have historically had an ad-hoc group called the compensation council, consisting of the chair, vice chair, immediate past chair, and chair of the finance and business committee. This group essentially approves compensation that is decided upon during the negotiation process, and it brings the president’s compensation before the board for approval. A review by Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, indicated the need for a more formal and structured process, so the governance committee has proposed the formation of a standing committee on compensation.

Joel Myers ’61, ’63g, ’71g, chair of the outreach committee, announced three changes to the public comment session that will be made after suggestions from alumna Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g: (1) people will be encouraged to direct questions to committee chairs, who will answer “respectful” queries or pass them on to the appropriate department, (2) a large digital clock will be used to time the three-minute each speaker gets a public comment, preventing the one-minute warning that Pope said may distract speakers, and (3) the possibility of increasing the 48-hour notice that speakers selected for public comment get to 72 hours or more, making the process easier on speakers from out of town.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

November 23, 2013 at 11:43 pm 2 comments

Governance Committee Debates Presidential Search

Trustee Keith Eckel (Penn Stater file photo)

Trustee Keith Eckel (Penn Stater file photo)

When the agenda for Board of Trustees’ governance and long-range planning meeting on Thursday moved to new business, Anthony Lubrano ’82 was ready with his issue. He’s already been on record criticizing the search process for Penn State’s new president, saying the Trustee Presidential Selection Council does not include enough trustees who represent alumni.

This time, Lubrano proposed having a discussion about the issue, possibly as a prelude toward changing the makeup of the selection council, which interviews finalists for the position. He said that the full board should be able to meet with the finalists before voting, rather than relying on the 13-member selection council to make a recommendation for the entire board.

Governance chair Keith Eckel, a member of the selection council, said he had no problems with the process, which is the same as has been used for previous Penn State presidential searches. (Refresher: The Presidential Search and Screen Committee, composed mostly of faculty, students, and alumni, did the initial work in conjunction with executive search firm Isaacson Miller and recommended finalists to the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, which then recommends a candidate to the full board.) Said Eckel: “The process works.”

Trustee Anthony Lubrano (Penn Stater file photo)

Trustee Anthony Lubrano (Penn Stater file photo)

Responded Lubrano: “It’s a valid concern. You say to 18 members of the board: ‘Here’s a person, you can vote up or down.’ This is the most important role we play as trustees, and now you’re saying to trust us. Trust us.”

That exchange kicked the discussion to a broader level, touching on not only how the presidential search works, but how the board itself works.

First, trustee Carl Shaffer asked Lubrano why he hadn’t raised these concerns when the board passed a resolution establishing the search process in November 2012; Lubrano said he had, privately, and that at the time, the composition of the selection council wasn’t known. Only later, Lubrano said, did it become clear that selection council had only one member who was elected to the board by alumni: Marianne Ellis Alexander ’62.

This prompted a forceful response from Eckel:

“When I see the committee and the board, I see a member of the Board of Trustees. I don’t see someone elected by the ag society. I don’t see someone elected by the alumni. I don’t see somebody from business and industry. I see trustees. All equal in their ability and right to serve …”

Vice chair Paul Silvis ’06g, a guest at the committee meeting, interjected: “And passion to serve, too.”

Eckel agreed, then continued, referencing not only the selection council, but the board’s six standing committees, and the seventh standing committee to be voted on Friday, the compensation committee. “I have absolute confidence in the selection process where we put people on committees,” he said. “I serve on two committees (governance and legal), and tomorrow we will hear reports from four others, soon to be five others. I have confidence in the work of those individuals. … You have to have confidence in the people you’re working with.”

Said Lubrano: “I think the confidence has been eroded over the last two years pretty significantly. To not acknowledge that is to put your head in the sand.”

In the end, Lubrano declined to introduce a motion that would change the makeup of the selection council, which is continuing its work after its reported top choice, the president of SUNY’s Upstate Medical School, was found to have been padding his salary.

Eckel then opened the meeting, as has become his custom since becoming the chair of the committee in July, with a chance for the public to comment. The first speaker was trustee emeritus Ted Junker ’60, who said he’d served on the committees that chose both Joab Thomas and Graham Spanier, and he addressed another comment of Lubrano, about socializing with the spouse of the presidential finalists. The committee did meet with Thomas and his wife, Marly, but did not meet with Spanier’s wife, Sandra ’76g, ’81g.

The next to speak was Alice Pope ’79, ’83g, ’86g, who called herself disappointed in the discussion.

“I think it is reality for us to acknowledge that there are differences of opinions on the board and that they reflect differences of opinions within the community,” she said. “The hiring of the president really requires genuine consensus. We want the next president to succeed. This is really important, opening up a new era at Penn State. We want to form and create the next Penn State out of the ashes of what’s happened here. You proceed without the opinions of the trustees who disagree with the majority, just because they’re the minority. Minorities are important.”

Pope added that just because the process worked in the past doesn’t mean that it has to be used now, and said that as a university professor herself, she knows that some universities have found ways to open the presidential search process more. “Even if you don’t want to be open with the entire community,” she said, “you need to be open to the whole board.”

Eckel stressed that trustees are not disenfranchised—everyone gets a vote on the new president. “And the idea that minorities were excluded from the process is wrong. They were part of the vote that approved the resolutions saying a candidate will be presented to the full board.”

Said Lubrano: “Today, that vote would be very different.”

The meeting was jam-packed with discussion on weighty issues, one of which I’ve already written about (potential changes to the election of alumni trustees) and others of which I’ll explore in later blogs and the magazine. Here are a couple of additional noteworthy items:

—Eckel announced the hiring of Holly Gregory as its consultant to help the board think through additional changes in its governance structure.

—Silvis reported on a meeting that he and Eckel had with state senators John Yudichak ’93, ’04g and Jake Corman ’93, who say they will introduce a bill to reform the Board of Trustees. Silvis said the words “patience” and “participation” came up frequently, and he said the legislators don’t want this to be a confrontational process, but one in which the legislature works with the board. He explained the mindset this way: “Measure twice, measure 10 times, cut once. Because the changes we make in governance are going to be with us for 25 years or longer.”

The presentation prompted Shaffer to ask how much jurisdiction the Pennsylvania state legislature has over the board: “How far can this go? Can they pass a law about our budget? I’m a little concerned about the slippery slope.”

University counsel Stephen Dunham described the relationship between the legislature and the four state-related universities, Penn State among them, as “complicated and unique.” He said he couldn’t answer Shaffer’s question in the abstract: “The lawyer’s proper answer is, it depends on the facts. What area it is, how extensive it is, the history, the charter, the non-profit law. There are lots of issues to look at.”

—Members of the committee met with students who are interested in governance issues and who made a case for a designated student trustee, a case that Eckel called impressive. Eckel also noted that faculty and the Alumni Association would like to have designated seats on the board.

Liz Grove ’84 asked the committee why the conflict-of-interest statements, which the board voted into its bylaws at its May meeting, are not yet public. Frank Guadagnino ’78, a Reed Smith attorney hired by Penn State to consult on governance issues, said the board office distributed two questionnaires to the trustees, one which is the equivalent of the IRS Form 990, the other to disclose “actual and potential” conflicts of interests. He said they’ve received all but two forms, and that the goal is to make information public on the university’s website by the end of the year.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

November 22, 2013 at 10:18 am 3 comments

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