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Penn State Is Still Feeling Pretty Good About Hiring Florida State's President

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A story in The New York Times this morning reveals the gaping holes in Florida State University’s investigation of its Heisman trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, after a female student accused him of rape last year. After the freshman student reported the assault to the local police in December 2012, the Times found,

The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA.

The story should be troubling to everyone who reads it—but especially to administrators at Pennsylvania State University. Not only is Penn State still getting over its own football-centered scandal, but the president it has hired to lead it into a scandal-free era is atmospheric scientist Eric Barron–until this month the president of Florida State. 

To be clear, the Times does not suggest that Barron knew about the alleged rape or the mishandled investigation. While Florida State's athletic department knew about the accusations against Winston as early as January 2013, the Times never suggests that Barron was informed: In fact, his name appears only once in the exposé. Still, you might think Penn State could be having second thoughts about its pick to reform the school's football-focused culture—and help it to overcome bad press.

Penn State said it wasn’t reconsidering Barron’s appointment in light of today’s report. Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State trustee and vocal critic of the school’s decision to fire longtime coach Joe Paterno for turning a blind eye to child abuse by Jerry Sandusky, told me there were “no plans that I know of” to reconsider Barron’s hiring, or even to convene and discuss possible fallout from the Florida State episode. In his experience, he said, Barron is “an efficient, diligent human being,” and he added: “That story doesn’t suggest that Dr. Barron necessarily handled anything improperly.”

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers conveyed a similar message in an email:

Penn State is pleased that Eric Barron will officially become the president of our University on Monday, May 12. We look forward to his proven leadership as he takes the reins and guides the institution forward. In electing Dr. Barron, the Penn State Trustees conducted all appropriate, thorough background checks and investigations required by institutional policy for all employees. 

Two former trustees whom Penn State alumni voted off the board of trustees for their role in firing Paterno—Paul Suhey and Stephanie Deviney—did not return requests for comment. Neither did former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the “athletics integrity monitor” the school hired after the scandal. 

“I think if we learned anything from Penn State, it’s that you have to be careful not to rush to any judgment," Lubrano said. "At Penn State, we rushed to too many.”