Commentary on Barron's Handling of FSU-Big12 issue

FSU President Eric Barron's recent comments regarding the potential move of FSU from the ACC to the Big12 were an embarrassment to himself and to FSU.

I'd like to call it a rookie mistake. I'd like to give Barron a mulligan on this, but my concern is that he's made several critical mistakes here that have me wondering about whether the job is just too big for him or whether he has the right temperament to be FSU's President.

More after the jump.

In my opinion, Barron's made several mistakes in his handling of this whole affair.

1) He's publicly called out his boss (with his first statement correcting BOT Chair Andy Haggard over the weekend). This, in itself, was necessary to avoid putting FSU in a tough legal spot. So, this one - by itself - was not a complete mistake, but this created complications for him for what came after. You can't call out your boss over making a mistake in his public statement and then turn around the next day AND do the same thing.

2) The autoresponse email. Multiple mistakes here.

A) This should have been just a "thank you for your interest, blah blah blah" statement not a debate piece.

B) If you're going to debate - show balance in your statement. Barron set up straw men arguments on the pro-move side and then slanted the rest of his email with stale arguments that largely no longer apply. He assumes - apparently - that FSU would act in a vacuum if it joined the Big12. That no other school - most likely Clemson - would consider going as well. He has a phone - he can call Clemson. He has an AD he can dispatch as well.

C) If you're going to speak out - you have to have command of the facts. Barron's response shows him to not be in command of the facts. He talks about how the Big12 has unequal sharing - but that's no longer true. He talks about increased travel costs - but reports have been that the Big12 covers those things.

But then he throws in complete dead end arguments - like where's the buyout money coming from? If we can't raise it - the Big12 would likely give us a low or no interest loan. They paid for half of WVU's settlement - that was in the papers - are you that uninformed or are you just choosing to ignore any arguments that don't result in FSU staying the ACC.

He talks about busing kids - really? I'm sure there are things we do to control costs for the non-revenue sports but I would be surprised if we're busing kids to a lot of ACC destinations like BC or Maryland or even the Carolinas. Maybe we bus kids to UF. Regardless, he one-sidedly brings out the costs, without fairly weighing it with the financial benefits. Instead he chooses a static $20M/yr/team number to represent the value of the ACC contract. This is intellectually dishonest. He knows that if you add a pair of attractive teams to a conference - that MORE money becomes available. He knows that if a conference didn't have a championship game and now it does - it too will result in more money.

D) He's jumping to conclusions when his role is to gather ALL the facts to make a decision. This is to me a potentially fatal mistake. In my experience, there are two types of people that make their way into management - reactionaries who make knee jerk decisions and deliberators who consider the information available to themselves then decide.

One is not necessarily better than the other. Reactionaries can be effective if they have a strong point of view for doing good, if they have a strong ability to quickly assimilate relevant information, and know enough to check themselves just before deciding because they're self-aware that their tendency is to decide in a knee-jerk way. Deliberators have to fight with themselves the other way - to make sure that they're not overanalyzing everything, that they're not suffering from "paralysis by analysis". There is such a thing as too much information.

The most effective managers are the ones who are less extreme on either end. They gather facts, but don't get overwhelmed by them; they listen carefully to different points of view; they identify what's really important and then they decide. And they properly balance long term goals with short term goals.

Barron to me in this episode appears reactionary - his response was heavily slanted in favor of the academic arguments. From the "facts" that he uses to make his argument - its clear that he's not considered any other point of view. That's okay - but only if you have the self-awareness that you need to dig deeper into the arguments on the other side. Typically someone with that self-awareness would be prudent about comments that they make to others - especially the general public. There may be data points that you don't yet know that could be vital in making the decision. That's not who Barron has been in this. That's a problem regarding his ability to do his job. It's shoot first, ask questions later - and that rarely ends well for the shooter. Shooters tend to be shot back at.

E) He violates what I think is an unwritten rule in his profession. He denigrates his colleagues publicly by saying that the Big12 is inferior academically to the ACC. He's not wrong - its true. Everyone knows that its true. But if everyone knows it - why do you have to say it?

It's not just impolite - but its also imprudent. And in Barron's case - its hypocritical, having served as a Dean at UTA.

You expect your college President to be sophisticated enough to NOT throw a whole conference of schools under the bus. And it shows mind-numbing cognitive dissonance for Barron, who, if we're being honest, is the president of one of the ACC's lesser academic institutions, to be throwing rocks at schools like UTA and Baylor who are well ahead of FSU in USN&WR's college rankings. In fact, of the Big12's 10 schools - 6 of them are ahead or tied with FSU in those rankings. Frankly, FSU "fits" better in that crowd than they do with ACC schools like UNC, Duke, BC, GT, etc.

Its like the least attractive cheerleader on the cheerleading team calling out a group of similar or better looking girls as not being "hot" enough. It makes you wince when you hear it.

You can't even write this up to ignorance on Barron's part because he WAS a dean at UTA. He KNOWS better.

F) And its because he knows better that brings me to what I think is the most damning problem. This was Barron poisoning the well. He wants to placate his faculty. Perhaps he feels leaving the ACC would be like adding insult to injury for them after severe budget cuts. That's commendable on its face, but he's not their union rep. He's the president of the WHOLE university. He gets paid to make decisions that look out for all aspects of campus life.

He threw the Big12 under the bus deliberately to try to end the debate the way that he wants it ended - for FSU to stay in the ACC. This was not some political calculation where he triangulates back after serving up raw meat to his primary constituency. This was Barron attempting to close off debate and piss the Big12 off into not being interested anymore. This was a self-serving act. He should apologize immediately to the schools of the Big12 for the embarrassment his comments have created for FSU.

The only thing he's really been asked to do at this point is just listen to what the Big12 may offer. To discuss with other ACC schools (to the extent that the ACC contract may allow) about their sense of the conference and how they perceive their self-interests in light of the ACC TV contract. If he needs to formally tell the ACC that we want to evaluate what they may have to say - he should.

Isn't that what educators should be about? Uncovering truths? Gathering facts? Using the tool of knowledge for the betterment of yourself or your organization?

Instead we see a petulant man attempting to not only stifle debate but to poison an opportunity for Florida State to better itself; uninformed of the facts, and uninterested in hearing opposing views. That's closed-mindedness.

That's not what we should want in a college president.

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