New FSU President Kicks Off University Tenure
New Florida State President Eric Barron started his first week on the job with news that the football team would have to vacate 12 wins because of an academic cheating scandal, an ongoing budget outlook that screams for more cuts and a mandate from the university trustees to raise $1 billion in the next six years.
And he hasn't yet unpacked the boxes in his Tallahassee-based office. He and his wife Molly are barely into his new home, a house provided by Florida State for the university president.
He has been in Florida for a few weeks, keeping a low profile but meeting with various university officials and political leaders to get a jump start on the challenges ahead. His first full day on the job, Feb. 8, started with a big stack of papers to sign, he said.
He also took questions from several media outlets about some of the pressing issues:
One of the most pressing issues facing the university over the past year was an investigation by NCAA officials over a cheating scandal in the athletic department a few years ago. Sanctions handed down from the NCAA this weekend strip the university of 12 football wins, 32 softball wins and four baseball wins including an NCAA tournament win.
Barron said that a number of steps were taken under his predecessor, T.K. Wetherell, to “make sure everything is on the up and up,” and that the university would continue in that manner.
“I think a number of steps have already been taken both from an effort to examine courses and their statistics to make sure that everything is on the up and up, to altering the training of tutors and those people that are mentoring our athletes, to having better education of those particular individuals,” Barron said. “And a lot of faces have changed. And I think we'll continue to make sure that education and that preventative element are there.”
When Wetherell retired and the FSU Board of Trustees began the search for a new president, one thing was made clear. Whoever takes the job must raise $1 billion for the university over a five to six year period.
"If they can't raise $1 billion in five or six years, then we're not hiring them as president of Florida State University," Trustees Chair Jim Smith said when the presidential search committee narrowed the list of potential candidates for president.
Barron said that he is looking at the strategic plan for the university and will try to mold the fundraising approach around that. On a more practical level, he said, it's building a team of fundraisers who are in frequent touch with the alumni.
“We also have to take a close look at staffing,” Barron said. “Because compared to any major university, the number of staff we have making connections to alumni is really rather small.”
The state budget and its effect on the university may be the biggest challenge for Barron, though. The university system as a whole has seen cuts in state funding with minor tuition increases, meaning tough choices for universities.
In June, the FSU Board of Trustees approved a budget cut of $56 million over three years from the operating budget, which would result in 186 layoffs for faculty and staff. Gov. Charlie Crist, a Florida State grad himself, is pushing for $100 million in new funding for the university system. But lawmakers are saying, “not likely.”
Legislative budget chiefs are predicting a $3 billion shortfall for the 2011 fiscal year, meaning that somewhere, something may have to be cut.
“It's interesting because every university across the country that's a public [university] is suffering from the fact that it has declining state resources,” Barron said. “Their endowments have declined. Their giving from alumni is stressed.”
Barron is “at the beginning” of meeting with lawmakers and other politicians about the university budget situation, something that will likely occupy a lot of his spring, as legislators hammer out the ultimate 2011 budget.
“I think we've reached the point where we can't start to decrease the size of faculty and different programs,” he said. “I think we have already gone through a lot of stress. So we're going to have to work hard to make our case.”