TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is wasting no time as it figures out who will be the university's next president.
The trustees have scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday morning to start laying the groundwork for a search committee to find a leader to replace Eric Barron, who was named Penn State University's president on Monday.
Barron's departure date has not been determined — it will be part of Wednesday's conversation – but he will be on the job in State College no later than May 12.
Allan Bense, chairman of FSU's board and former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said trustees will not be naming an interim president Wednesday. FSU's board has its annual spring meetings in a little more than two weeks, March 6-7.
"We want to do a good job and find a great president," Bense said. "I have no preconceived notion if we should even have an interim president."
Barron's return to Penn State, where he was on the faculty from 1986-2006, came as a complete surprise to almost everyone affiliated with Florida State. Trustee Andy Haggard, former chairman of FSU's board, said he was "totally and absolutely shocked and stunned" when he learned Saturday that Barron was set to be named Penn State's president on Monday.
Barron, 62, a 1973 Florida State graduate, was hired to be FSU's 14th president in December 2009 and has been on the job since February 2010. He was in New York City getting ready to celebrate his only grandchild's third birthday when news of his pending hire appeared on a Penn State student blog Friday afternoon.
Barron, a widely respected president at FSU, had begun a number of initiatives that include the university's first $1 billion capital campaign. Under his leadership, FSU was named the most efficient university in the country the past two years and last year it was awarded preeminence status (along with University of Florida) by the Legislature, ensuring an additional $75 million over five years to help the university move from No. 40 into the nation's top 25 public institutions.
FSU trustees, the student body president and head of the Faculty Senate all had high praise for Barron on Monday. They also voiced confidence that FSU is in sound shape.
"It's not that Eric wanted to go in a different direction than anybody else at Florida State," Gary Tyson, the Faculty Senate president, said. "We all wanted to go in that direction. It's just that we lost the one person who we didn't want to lose."
Rosie Contreras, FSU's student body president, said it's important that the university's next leader be committed to the initiatives established by Barron and his leadership team. She noted that the university's accrediting agency, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is scheduled to come to FSU in late March. It might make sense to retain Barron through that visit, she said.
"Losing President Barron is definitely bittersweet," she said. "I'm proud that he's been selected for this position at a top 10 public institution."
Barron will be paid handsomely at Penn State. His five-year contract calls for him to receive a base salary of $800,000, almost double the $407,850 he earns at FSU, plus a $200,000 one-time transition fee and a $200,000 retention payment at the end of each year. He will also receive a $1-million bonus if he completes his five-year contract.
Barron was in State College Monday for the trustees' unanimous vote for his selection, which included unabashed praise from a number of Penn State stakeholders. He did send a letter to the FSU community following his confirmation; Barron's first formal communication with FSU since news of his pending hire broke Friday.
"I am very proud of my university and its progress over the last four years," he wrote. "I am deeply appreciative of my time at Florida State University, and my love for this institution, its faculty, staff and alumni will never change."
He also made note that at Penn State he will enjoy "the authority associated with the far simpler governance system of a state-related institution."
Barron hired every member of FSU's leadership team except for Mary Coburn, vice president for student affairs. He brought in Garnett Stokes in 2011 to be provost and vice president for academic affairs. Kyle Clark, the CFO and vice president for finance and administration, and Stan Wilcox, the athletic director, both started Sept. 1, 2013.
Stokes said Monday that FSU is in good hands as the trustees begin the search for a new president.
"I think that President Barron has built a really strong leadership team and we have a remarkably good university with very effective leaders," she said. "This will help us as we transition to identify Florida State's next leader."
Barron's departure easily could take place during the upcoming legislative session, which gets under way March 4. It is a critical time for FSU and the state's other public universities, as lawmakers decide on funding and other issues. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and one of FSU's most ardent champions in the Legislature — he was chair of FSU's board when it hired Barron's predecessor, T.K. Wetherell in 2002 — also said he expects FSU will fare well this year despite the loss of Barron.
"Eric Barron has done a great job for the last four years and he certainly will be missed, but I think FSU has good momentum going," Thrasher said. "The momentum is there and I'm going to do everything I can to keep it going."
Trustee Joe Gruters, chair of the board's compensation committee, earlier this month began gathering information to work on a new contract for Barron. Gruters is among the newer members of FSU's board.
"I'm disappointed from the standpoint that President Barron won't be finishing his career at his alma mater," Gruters said. "His leaving is going to impact everything that he was touching. He deserves a lot of the credit for everything that was happening. He was the driver."
Barron proved during the past 10 days that he is adept at keeping a secret. He had been in Sarasota on Saturday, Feb. 8, at a meeting of FSU's direct support organizations. He had dinner that night with Trustee Mark Hillis and FSU alum turned ESPN personality Lee Corso.
The next day he was in State College, interviewing with Penn State's search committee, and last Monday he was back on campus at FSU. Trustees and vice presidents, not to mention Tallahassee officials who have worked closely with Barron, had no idea he was days away from taking a new job.