Eric J. Barron, who led Pennsylvania State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, will step down in June 2022 after eight years on the job, he announced Friday.
Barron, 69, who has been at the helm since 2014, told the university board of trustees that in the remaining 16 months of his contract he will focus on college affordability and providing scholarships for students, diversity efforts including hiring a chief diversity officer, and upgrading facilities especially for science, technology, engineering, math, arts, and humanities.
He said he also will focus on finishing the university’s $2.1 billion, six-year fund-raising plan. Currently, the school has raised $1.65 billion, with about $450 million to go.
“Under President Barron’s leadership, Penn State has made incredible progress during a critical time in our university’s history,” board chair Matt Schuyler said in a statement. “I have no doubt he will continue that progress with the priorities he has identified for the remainder of his term.”
Also at the meeting, the board approved more than $48 million for expansion and renovation of its Lasch football building. The project was approved by a vote of 27-6, with some board members saying the university should hold off given the financial impact of COVID-19 and others arguing that football brings in a lot of revenue and enhances the university.
The university will begin a search for a new president later this spring, kicking it off with a listening tour to gain input from the Penn State community.
Barron arrived at Penn State less than three years after Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was charged with abusing young boys, and several of the university’s top leaders were ousted. The board of trustees was deeply divided over how the controversy was handled and Barron sought to provide a steadying influence. He has focused on economic development, fund-raising, and making college accessible to and affordable for more students. Tuition was frozen three times under his leadership.
He also cracked down on Greek life after the death of sophomore pledge Tim Piazza in 2017 after a booze-fueled fraternity party. He also co-led a national meeting of university officials on ways to improve fraternity and sorority life.
And, over the last year, he has led the school through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barron said in guiding the university through difficult times, he has employed a life lesson he got when his father was teaching him how to drive and the ride was a bit rocky.
“He said, ‘Eric, if you lift your head up and look down the road, you will find it easier to get where you want to go,’ ” Barron said in an interview after the meeting. “If you keep your eye on what you are trying to accomplish, you get there.”
Barron called leading Penn State his “greatest professional honor” but said it’s a job where “even if you take a break, there isn’t a break,” and he will be ready to retire as he hits his 70th birthday.
“What’s important to me is that we don’t take our foot off the gas” over the next 16 months, he said.
Barron earned $1.1 million in total compensation in 2019, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Before becoming Penn State president, the native of Lafayette, Ind., led Florida State University. He previously worked at Penn State for 20 years, including serving as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.