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Penn State President-designate Barron seeks refocus

| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 5:37 p.m.

Penn State's next president is ready for the spotlight to shift away from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and on to the many things Pennsylvania's largest university has to offer.

In a phone interview from Florida, President-designate Eric Barron found several ways to deflect questions about divisions among alumni and others in the university community over the NCAA penalties against the football program, the treatment of Joe Paterno and the structure and role of the board of trustees.

“There's more for me to learn,” Barron said when asked if he thinks the NCAA's four-year postseason ban, $60 million fine and other sanctions are appropriate. “I'm not sure my personal opinion as a Penn State fan from afar has value there.”

He said the presidents of all major institutions have to think about the relationship between big-time sports and the wider university — a balance that was criticized by the NCAA when it announced the penalties against Penn State in 2012.

Barron, who is wrapping up his duties as Florida State's president, said he made a point to meet with tutors and advisers for the athletics program there because their role had been a problem in the past. He said he did not want those tutors to feel as if the fate of the team was on their shoulders.

Major college sports, he said, represent a front door to the public, and football is the main reason why alumni return to campus.

“We want to make sure that door is welcoming and projects a great image,” Barron said. “On the other hand, you've got an incredible marketplace out there that is driving the value of coaches' salaries, is driving revenues for athletics and that if you step back, it's hard to imagine that we got to the place we're at.”

Barron said his goals include increasing student engagement, as there is evidence that students perform better, are happier and get better jobs if they participate in worthwhile activities outside the classroom.

He aims to improve their career success and to do more to capitalize on the intellectual property the university produces.

College affordability is in his crosshairs.

“You're serving the state of Pennsylvania, and the university is expensive,” Barron said. “Are we doing all the things that we can and want to do to make sure that no one decides against Penn State because they can't afford it?”

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