The Florida State University Board of Trustees is planning to name an interim president when it holds its annual spring meeting March 7.
Trustees, quickly gathering their footing after learning over the weekend that President Eric Barron had agreed to be Penn State's next president, decided at an emergency meeting Wednesday to cut ties with Barron on April 2. That's one day after FSU Day at the Capitol and one week after a critical visit by the university's accrediting body.
It's possible the trustees will identify an executive search firm at their March 7 meeting as well as members of the search team. Trustee Ed Burr, a Jacksonville businessman, will head the search committee.
Allan Bense, chairman of FSU's board, said he was confident the trustees would have a new president by the end of the year, if not sooner.
"I have no preconceived notions as to who should be the next president. I want to make sure we find the best person who can take the ball where President Barron has put it and move it ahead," Bense said. "We certainly appreciate Dr. Barron's service, but we're going to move forward."
Barron, FSU's president since February 2010, caught the FSU community — not to mention greater Tallahassee — by surprise when news that he was set to be named Penn State's president on Monday began circulating on Friday. He will start his new job on or before May 12.
Barron addressed FSU's trustees for the first time since Monday at the start of the emergency board meeting. He left after making his remarks.
"The first thing I want to do is apologize for how many of you learned what I was contemplating. It was not my intent to have it emerge that way," he said.
Barron is in effect going home when he and his wife, Molly, return to State College, Pa. He spent the bulk of his professional career there, raising two children and rising from professor to dean between 1986 and 2006. He also will be earning more than double his current salary of $407,850; he will receive close to $6 million over the next five years at Penn State.
Highly respected and admired for his leadership, Barron had begun numerous initiatives — setting a path for FSU to move into the top 25 of public universities (No. 40 now), leading a first-ever $1 billion capital campaign and renovating the Civic Center, to name a few — which the trustees said Wednesday they want to continue.
Trustee Joe Camps urged his colleagues to make sure FSU's next president is a good listener.
"Dr. Barron was probably one of the best listeners I've ever met in my life. I think that's a key talent to have to move the institution forward," he said.
Barron, 62, earned his bachelor's degree at FSU in 1973. He was the second graduate of the institution to return to serve as its leader (his predecessor, T.K. Wetherell, was the first), but he won't be the last if some trustees have their way.
Joe Gruters was the first to list an FSU diploma as a key credential for the university's next president, but others echoed the sentiment. Bense said an FSU graduate would already be invested in the university.
FSU's board voted unanimously Wednesday to waive a 180-day notice clause in Barron's contract, ensuring that he won't be penalized financially for leaving in April for Penn State. Bense said following the meeting he hoped that such a clause would not be included in the contract for FSU's next president.
Barron's April 2 departure date is one day after the April 1 start for Florida A&M University's new president, Elmira Mangum.
Bense, a former Speaker of the Florida House, insisted he had not heard from any elected officials who are interested in serving as interim president or want to be considered for the permanent job.
"There are a lot of rumors out there, I can tell you that," Bense said.