TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Outgoing Florida State University President Eric Barron apologized on Wednesday to trustees for finding out through the media that he was in line to take the top job at Penn State University.
Barron made his brief apology during an emergency meeting of FSU trustees who must now find someone to take over the school in the middle of a major fundraising campaign and the renewal of the school's accreditation.
Penn State appointed Barron on Monday, but news about the pending decision began to circulate Friday after media reports surfaced in Pennsylvania. Barron had not told trustees yet that he was seeking the position.
"It certainly was not my intent to have it emerge that way," Barron said.
Allan Bense, a former Florida House speaker and chairman of the FSU board, acknowledged Barron told him more than a week ago that he was a finalist for the position but that he had agreed to keep it secret. Bense put out a statement last week that said he had not gotten "official confirmation" that Barron was leaving.
Bense told trustees that it became clear to him that he was not going to be able to talk Barron into staying.
Barron is getting a compensation package that far exceeds what he was making at FSU. The Tallahassee school was paying him a base salary of slightly more than $400,000 but in the last three years he earned bonuses worth another $556,000. Penn State has given him a five-year contract worth $1 million a year.
Barron said the job was an opportunity that he could not turn down. He is scheduled to take over the Penn State job in May, although his last day at FSU is April 2.
FSU trustees did vote to waive a clause in Barron's contract that required him to turn in his resignation notice 180 days ahead of time. Barron's departure date will come halfway through the annual session of the Florida Legislature, which provides a large share of FSU funding.
But Barron is sticking around long enough to help with a campus visit by a regional accrediting body. FSU should learn by the end of the year whether it is deserving of maintaining its accreditation.
The key question remains, however, who will replace Barron and how long it will take to conduct a search for a new president.
Barron, a geologist, has spent most of his career at academic institutions, including 20 years at Penn State, while the two FSU presidents who preceded him had long-running political connections.
Bense, whose son-in-law is the current Florida House speaker, said that so far he has not heard from any politicians interested in the job, although he noted "there's a lot of rumors out there." Bense said he would like someone who has an academic background, while also understanding a need to "walk the halls" of the Florida Capitol.
"In Florida the political process in higher education is very important," said Bense.
Several trustees, noting Barron had a bachelor's degree from FSU, said they would like to try to get an alumnus for the job.
Trustees did not establish a firm timeline for picking a new president, although Bense said he plans to appoint a search committee in the next two weeks. FSU also plans to name an interim president at a meeting scheduled in March.