John Thrasher Among Final Four in Run For Florida State Presidency, and Only Floridian
FlaglerLive | September 9, 2014
Despite opposition from students and faculty, state Sen. John Thrasher, a well-connected Republican from St. Augustine, remains in the hunt to be the next president of Florida State University.
The university’s 27-member Presidential Advisory Search Committee on Tuesday named four finalists, including Thrasher, to succeed former President Eric Barron. Barron, an academic with a track record in fundraising, was named president of Penn State University in February.
While Thrasher vowed during his interview Tuesday to make the school “proud” if he gets hired, a number of students and faculty members implored the committee to focus on candidates with strong academic backgrounds.
“Sen. Thrasher meets the qualifications that this board agreed to when we put those qualifications out,” university Trustee Ed Burr, the chairman of the search committee, said after the meeting.
The other finalists, chosen after the committee spent two days interviewing a pool of 11 applicants, are Richard B. Marchase, University of Alabama at Birmingham vice president for research and economic development; Michele G. Wheatly, who until June had been provost at West Virginia University; and Michael V. Martin, Colorado State University System chancellor.
FSU Provost Garnett Stokes, who has been serving as interim president, failed in several votes to make the finalist pool, including one proposal backed by students and faculty on the committee for her to replace Thrasher among the finalists.
The finalists will be expected to attend a second round of interviews that will include meetings with groups on campus next week. Background checks are planned.
The committee is scheduled to make a recommendation to the university’s board of trustees on Sept. 22.
The trustees, who would still have to forward the final choice to the university system’s Board of Governors, are scheduled to meet Sept. 23.
Thrasher, the only “non-traditional” candidate among the 11 interviewed the past two days, has been a major supporter of FSU in the Legislature, including helping the university establish a medical school. Currently chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, he is also a former House speaker and former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
During his one-hour, 15-question interview, Thrasher talked about his passion for the university and a desire to make a difference at the school where he received his undergraduate and law degrees.
“I want to be president of Florida State University. If you give me the opportunity to do it, I promise you, I will make you proud,” Thrasher said in response to a question from committee member and state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.
But Thrasher has faced skepticism and opposition from faculty members for months.
Physics professor Todd Adams and English Department Chairman Eric Walker, faculty members on the committee, both said Marchase was one of the strongest candidates.
Several faculty members advised the committee that there were other excellent candidates interviewed Monday and Tuesday, but that they would not support Thrasher.
William Hallal, a graduate student in freshman composition, said he heard nothing that changed his view of Thrasher during the interview and said Thrasher’s hiring would only bring national “shame and scrutiny” upon the school.
College of Communications and Information professor Gary Burnett added that Thrasher’s hiring would only damage the reputation of the school rather than help boost the school’s national reputation.
Still, the level of objections wasn’t a repeat of Friday’s drama, when students — protesting for more say in the selection process and against the prospects of Thrasher being named the next president — briefly delayed the committee from creating a shortlist of applicants to interview.
And in a sign that the campus isn’t unanimously opposed to Thrasher, a couple of students and faculty voiced support for the senator.
Joe Vance, president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity chapter at FSU, asserted that a large portion of the Greek community backed Thrasher.
“I’m under the impression that a good leader can do anything in terms of leading,” Vance said.
Physics professor Paul Cottle also affirmed that Thrasher has the ability to attract the money needed to improve the research programs at the school.
“We have a candidate who has been a successful and passionate advocate of our institution and he wants to continue that as president,” Cottle said.
For the most part, Thrasher hit key talking points about academics during his interview. He talked about the need to lobby state lawmakers and privately raise money to get the funds needed to improve programs at the Tallahassee campus. He also said “our athletes are students first,” and “our faculty are grossly underpaid.”
“I don’t particularly have a greater skill set than anybody else, but I know how to get things done,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher also kept away from his support during the past legislative session of a controversial proposal that would have moved toward splitting the Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering. Ultimately, lawmakers approved a study of the issue and Thrasher noted on a couple of occasions Tuesday that lawmakers and the school need to follow the findings of the study.
“I don’t know what the right fix is necessarily, but if we want Florida State University to move ahead in the STEM areas, particularly engineering areas, we probably need to understand there are issues and problems,” Thrasher responded. “And hopefully this study will reflect those, and we’ll be able to make very positive decisions not only for Florida State but also FAMU.”