Eric Barron
Promotion and Tenure Recognition Program

Monday, October 12, 2020


I’d like to add my congratulations to all our newly tenured and promoted faculty members. Just as you neared the finish of the long and winding road to promotion, along came COVID-19…which has added a whole new twist to teaching, research, and service. Thank you for stepping in, stepping up, and stepping outside your comfort zone to keep our university moving forward. I’m thrilled you have been rewarded for your many years of work with tenure and promotion.

You are a very select group. Only about two percent of Americans hold a Ph.D. and of that group only about half go into academia; even fewer get tenure. What your parents and teachers always suspected about you is true: you are above average!

You have earned this special moment, and so have your spouses, partners, and family members. Their understanding, support and encouragement have been very important, and not always easy when sharing the stresses and strains of SRTEs, grant writing, committee service, and conference presentations.

They also have a reason to celebrate. As newly tenured or promoted faculty, you can now relearn the route to the grocery store; and you can rediscover how the vacuum cleaner works. Those are just some of the perks of having tenure.

Earning tenure is often an event that people vividly remember, and with it comes joy, relief, validation, job security, and an office to keep all the stuff your spouse won’t let you bring home.

I came to Penn State in December of 1986 as director of the Earth System Science Center. I came with plenty of research credentials, because I had been a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research for four years. What I lacked was teaching experience, and when I came to Penn State, I quickly got plenty of time in the classroom.

So after about a year or so, I pulled together the tenure materials, and was subsequently awarded tenure. All in all, it was somewhat anticlimactic…although my family was thrilled to know I had a steady job and health insurance.

I’m sure you will have your own memory of this process, and I hope this occasion is a part of it.

The book program was first suggested by former Vice Provost Robert Secor, who learned of the idea from a colleague at the University of Illinois, which had its own promotion and tenure recognition event. It debuted at Penn State in 2003 and has continued ever since.

I liked this tradition so much that when I went to Florida State, Molly and I donated the funds to set up an endowment for a similar recognition program. It has become a wonderful tradition that celebrates excellence in writing and all the success it has led to for valued faculty members.

This year, all of you have selected dozens of new titles to be added to Penn State’s permanent collection. They cover a fascinating range of subjects and express the meaningful connections you have with teaching and learning, exploration and discovery, and the pleasures of craft.

Many of the titles selected cover the big challenges of our time: social justice, climate change, gender inequality, poverty, and education. The thoughtfulness and care that you have demonstrated with your choices makes me optimistic that you will be part of solving these challenges as we move forward as a nation.

Some faculty members selected books that were influential during their youth. One chose The Annotated Alice by Lewis Carroll, and another chose The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks. As Magic School Bus fans know, Miss Frizzle shows that learning science is fun, and that enthusiasm sparked a lifelong interest in science for this faculty member.

Others chose a book to honor a dear friend, high school roommate, mentor, teacher, parent, or as one individual wrote, “the soulmate of my lifetime.” Often, these books were the faculty member’s first introductions to the field and continue to be a source of inspiration and information.

One book is a tribute to a very supportive and proud father, who passed away. The book is a reminder of “how to enjoy life and to always look on the bright side.” That uplifting spirit is a wonderful gift to give one’s child.

All your choices are a wonderful gift to the collective knowledge of our university.

On behalf of Penn State, thank you to all our newly promoted and tenured faculty members for your consistently high-quality performance in teaching, research, and service, and in your creative achievements.

It’s through your work that Penn State continues to attract outstanding students, while maintaining a research enterprise that is among the best in the world.

Please enjoy the rest of your evening.