Pennsylvania State University has selected Eric J. Barron, the leader of Florida State University, as its next president. The decision comes more than two years after a child sexual-abuse scandal linked to the football team rocked the school.
The university’s Board of Trustees will meet on Feb. 17 to vote on the next president, the school said yesterday in a statement. The choice of Barron, a former Penn State dean, was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been officially announced.
Barron will fill the permanent post vacated by former President Graham Spanier, who was ousted by the board in 2011 after charges came to light that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually molested young boys. Rodney Erickson succeeded Spanier on an interim basis.
A call to Penn State’s press office after regular business hours yesterday wasn’t returned.
Barron, who has been Florida State’s president since February 2010, held positions at Penn State including professor of geosciences, director of the Earth System Science Center, director of the EMS Environmental Institute and dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
He received a bachelor’s degree in geology from Florida State and has a master’s and a Ph.D. from the University of Miami, according to FSU’s website. Barron previously served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and was dean of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin from 2006 to 2008.
Sandusky, who served under late Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, was convicted in June 2012 on 45 counts related to the abuse charges. The university, based in State College, Pennsylvania, has undergone investigations, replaced top officials and agreed to pay $59.7 million in settlements to 26 abuse victims.
Barron inherits a campus still feeling the impact of the Sandusky case. Penn State was also fined $60 million by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for its handling of the scandal and has been barred from participation in lucrative post-season football games for four years. The school has spent more than $50 million to pay for legal defense, public relations and other costs associated with the controversy.
Sandusky, 70, was sentenced in October 2012 to at least 30 years in prison for abusing boys over a 15-year period, sometimes on the school’s campus. He is serving time in a maximum security facility in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
Spanier, ex-Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, a retired vice president in charge of university police, were ordered in July to face trial on charges including endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy and perjury for allegedly orchestrating a coverup of Sandusky’s abuse.
The men allegedly kept silent on abuse claims against Sandusky, including downplaying an eyewitness account of a 2001 incident involving Sandusky and a young boy in a campus shower. Legal wrangling stalled the case as lawyers for the men argued that a grand jury report should be tossed out. A trial date still hasn’t been set.
The case against the school officials is one of several pending in state courts in Pennsylvania. Spanier filed notice in July of intentions to sue Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who conducted an internal probe of the school’s handling of Sandusky and whose report was used partly as the basis for charges against the former president. In October, Spanier sought to delay plans to sue Freeh until after his own trial on the cover-up charges.
Penn State is also facing a lawsuit filed by former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, the eyewitness to the 2001 abuse incident involving Sandusky and the young boy, over claims his cooperation in the case led to his firing from the university in July 2012. Penn State lost a court bid to dismiss the case in April.
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