Pennsylvania State University on Monday named as its top administrator the president of Florida State University, a move that puts a nationally known climatologist and former faculty member in charge as the school seeks to move past the child-sex-abuse scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.
The unanimous appointment of Eric Barron, 62 years old, as Penn State’s 18th president was made during a brief meeting of the school’s board of trustees. He will succeed Rodney Erickson, 67, who had said he planned to retire this year after he was named in 2011 to succeed Graham Spanier.
Mr. Spanier is one of three high-level administrators who face a criminal trial over charges they lied about a 2001 incident in which Mr. Sandusky, an assistant coach, was later found to have abused a boy in a Penn State athletic facility. The men were charged with perjury and other counts after prosecutors said they knowingly misled a grand jury about the incident. They all have pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Barron, who was named Florida State president in 2010, said at a news conference he believes Penn State is on its way to recovery from the Sandusky scandal, which also resulted in the ouster of longtime head football coach Joe Paterno, who has since died. Mr. Sandusky, who has appealed his case to the state Supreme Court, is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years.
“Of course those events were incredibly painful and saddening to all those people that love Penn State,” said Mr. Barron, who served as a dean and faculty member in Penn State’s science program from 1986 to 2006. “But what I see is an institution that has really taken control of compliance and is no doubt now a model university.”
Mr. Barron, whose five-year appointment to the $800,000-a-year job will take effect in the spring, has lectured on scientific models he says show that a buildup in greenhouse gases will result in a warming of Earth’s temperatures during the next century. Before taking over at Florida State, he served as director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., a federally funded research and development center.
The appointment drew outside praise. “This is an outstanding pick for Penn State,” said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit education group in Washington. “He was well regarded at Florida State and is known as a bold innovator.”
While applications for admissions are ticking up after a decline last year, and Penn State continues to raise money and be recognized for its academic programs, the school continues to face fallout from the Sandusky case. One issue for the new president will be trying to unite a school that became bitterly divided over the 2011 firing of Mr. Paterno.
“We want to heal,” said Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State trustee and supporter of the late football coach. “We just need a leader to show us the way.”