New PSU president out to ease debt burden on students
Two-and-a-half weeks into his tenure as Penn State's 18th president, Eric Barron acknowledges the university faces challenges, including keeping a lid on tuition at one of the nation's priciest public research universities.
But Barron says he doesn't want to risk sacrificing quality. So, he's gathering data on student graduation rates to study it carefully.
He speculates that by tracking students and ensuring they take the right classes, Penn State could help more of them graduate in four years and keep down debt. However, he wants to review the numbers first.
“I'm a scientist. I like data. I like to make decisions based on data,” Barron said.
Barron, who sat down for a wide-ranging interview with the Tribune-Review on Thursday, is not ready to endorse bringing Penn State fully under the state's Right to Know law.
He said Florida's public records law put universities at a disadvantage in contract negotiations with ESPN and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and executive searches, and opened the door for competitors to recruit faculty when salaries were disclosed.
Barron is studying the landscape at the sprawling land grant university, flying in for quick visits to the university's 21 campuses during his first 15 days in office.
“I'm being chief sponge right now, trying to absorb as much as I can,” Barron said.
University trustees named Barron, 62, president this year after a lengthy search for a successor to Rodney Erickson.
Erickson stepped into the presidency when trustees dismissed longtime university President Graham Spanier in November 2011, following the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
Barron, who had been president of Florida State University since 2010, previously was dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State.
Penn State professor emeritus John Dutton, 77, who preceded Barron as dean of that college, isn't surprised by Barron's cautious approach. He said Barron generally seeks consensus.
“I've seen that a couple of times in difficult situations. I think he's good at training people to support things that he would like the institution to do. He's very good at making people feel they're part of the organization and part of the progress,” he said.
Barron acknowledges that cost control is critical for the university, but said he wants to focus on a culture of excellence, accessibility and diversity.
Asked about the Freeh report, which was highly critical of Penn State's actions surrounding Sandusky, Barron said he's impressed with the school's progress adopting the report's 119 recommendations. He pointed to Penn State's establishment of an ethics office that works with the athletics compliance officer.
“They are saying, ‘Is your behavior and attitude here appropriate? And if it is not, what can we do to fix it? And if you're not willing to have it be fixed, I'm sorry, you don't work here anymore,' ” Barron said.
He said employees have been fired for ethical violations, including a prominent university figure, but declined to elaborate.
Anthony Lubrano, an outspoken Penn State trustee who was critical of Erickson, said he has no complaints about Barron.
“Without question, he is a very thoughtful, deliberative person,” Lubrano said.
Barron said he wants Penn State to assume a larger role in economic development and believes the school has potential to become a much larger driver in the state's economy.
Penn State's $850 million in research grants rank it 17th nationally among research universities.
“But we're (ranking)in the 70s, in terms of driving economic development and driving out intellectual property to the marketplace,” Barron said.
Branch campuses, many of which experienced declining enrollments, have potential to become important players in workforce development, he said.
Susan Werner, 64, of State College, who served on the State College School Board with Barron in the late 1990s, recalls him asking sharp questions during interviews of job candidates at the school district and seeking detailed information on spending proposals.
“His forte is working with people and faculty and students. I expect that will be an important part, eventually, of his legacy,” Werner said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Foundation helps fill funding gap
- Brass plaque stolen from McKeesport veterans memorial
- Undersized Beachum quietly excels at 1 of game’s pivotal positions
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu, Taylor unlikely to play, Harrison ‘ready’
- Kittanning, Kiski police getting trained to help abuse victims
- Pitt: Football coach hire comes 1st, athletic director 2nd
- Real estate union: Howard Hanna buys Langholz Wilson Ellis
- Roundup: PPG in talks to acquire French company
- Michigan State defensive coordinator a Pitt coaching candidate
- Penguins’ defensive depth proves valuable
- Hotel building boom sweeps Pittsburgh region