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FSU Names Alumnus Barron as New President

National Center for Atmospheric Research Director Eric Barron was tapped Tuesday as the new president of his alma mater, Florida State University, despite initial views from a trustees search committee that none of the applicants for the university's top job were good enough.

Barron, 58, worked at Penn State for more than 20 years, including a stint as the Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Science. He also served as a dean at University of Texas-Austin and began his tenure at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in 2008.

He comes to Florida State at a pivotal time for the university and the state's higher education system as a whole. The state's poor finances have led to major cuts at FSU of programs and tenured faculty. The trustees made clear early on in the search process that the next president will be charged with raising $1 billion.

Barron said that the university is probably light on the number of development staff it needs to embark on a major fundraising campaign, but that past fundraising totals and alumni enthusiasm could make the $1 billion mark feasible.

“The reason that I'm here is I truly believe this is a university that has tremendous potential and is ready to go to the next level,” Barron said.

Faculty, staff and search committee members gave glowing recommendations of Barron, who was on campus last week for an interview with the search committee and several receptions.

However, when the search committee initially met last week, panelists were wary of all of the applicants for the presidency, including Barron. They initially said that the applicant list was not impressive enough, and chose to only interview three candidates out of 26 applicants. Barron instantly emerged as the favorite.

Committee member Ken Van Assenderp said last week that he didn't see a single candidate on the list that he liked, but on Tuesday, he said he was “enthusiastically” in support of Barron's impending presidency.

“Dr. Barron transcended the interviews,” Van Assenderp said. “He does not have president or provost experience at a major university. He overcame that in my mind.”

Clifford Madsen, a faculty member in the music department, said he had never seen “this degree of enthusiasm” for a presidential or dean candidate. Madsen has been on several search committees for the university, including the current one.

“I have never been more pleased with the process and hopefully the product,” he said.

Some members of the trustees, though supportive of Barron, said they still wished they could have seen more candidates for interviews and that there should have been more of an effort to locate a sitting president or provost. Public universities in Florida, however, have difficulties in securing someone at that level because of the state's Sunshine laws. When someone applies for a university job, his or her name becomes public.

Jim Smith, chair of the trustees, said several people said they would apply only if Smith could guarantee that they would get the job, no question.

“I think we have to accept the reality that sitting presidents or provosts are just not willing to put themselves out there to put themselves in a public process because the likelihood there is that they're going to lose their jobs,” Smith said.

Harold Knowles, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, said he thought Barron was a “dynamic person” who would do well at the institution, but said he still thought the process had been far too rushed.

Outgoing President T.K. Wetherell announced his retirement over the summer, but said at the time he would serve until a date to be determined in 2010 while the trustees conducted a presidential search.

“The fact that we have no sitting presidents or provost on this list was very alarming to me,” Knowles said. “The entire process was truncated. It was truncated because of what? I don't know what. I still don't understand why the process was truncated.”

The vote in favor of Barron was unanimous; however, two trustees were not present for the vote. Smith will now begin the process of negotiating the contract with Barron as well as the new president's start date so that the transition from Wetherell to Barron can begin.

Barron is a native of Lafayette, Ind. and a 1973 graduate of Florida State. He earned his Ph.D from University of Miami in oceanography. He and his wife, Molly, have two grown children, and he said he hopes Florida State is his last stop in academia.

“I hope I retire here,” he said.

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