State Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) says he’s looking forward to addressing the concerns of Florida State University faculty and students when he interviews for the school's top job.
Thrasher has risen to the top of a slim list of candidates in a presidential search process many on the university’s search committee agree is unusual. The decision to interview Thrasher is controversial because of his political ties and how the search process has gone. The first thing Thrasher will have to address is why he never formally applied for the position.
"I was never asked to apply and certainly I think the process has been such that it’s been a slow process and I never thought about applying until there was a more definitive process in place," he says.
Thrasher claims he didn’t start the buzz about leading Florida State University, despite media reports. He says until recently, he’d been focused on the legislative session which just ended, but that hasn’t stopped people from suggesting he’ll be next at the helm.
During his decades in the public eye Thrasher has been a Speaker of the Florida House, and currently holds a powerful position as Senate Rules Chairman. He’s had stints as a lobbyist, and previously served on Florida State University’s board of trustees. He’s also an alumnus. For some, that’s not enough to make him qualify him to be FSU’s President.
“I don’t believe someone who sponsored legislation to eliminating collective bargaining rights can work effectively with the numerous unions at FSU, a qualification specifically mentioned in this committee’s criteria for the next president," said FSU Associate Music Professor Nancy Rogers pointing to Thrasher’s political resume as a reason he shouldn’t get the job. "Similarly, I don’t believe someone who sponsors legislation eliminating tenure can work effectively with FSU’s faculty," she told FSU's search committee.
But for current FSU Trustee Chairman Allen Bense, also a former House Speaker, Thrasher’s politics make him a prime presidential contender.
“We have to raise another half-billion dollars in our billion-dollar goal. We’ve raised a half-a-billion but we got the low-hanging fruit. The other half-billion is going to be tough to get. It’s going to take a lot of work and going to take someone leading this university who people believe in. And also someone who has the ability to raise money," he said, alluding to Thrasher as that person.
Thrasher is currently serving as chair of Governor Rick Scott’s re-election committee and he’s got a long track record of raising money—something university presidents across the county are increasingly being called upon to do.
FSU faculty members say they want a president similar to Eric Barron, who had been a university professor, administrator and head of the National Center for Atmospheric Research before being named FSU President in 2010. Barron left earlier in the year to head Penn State University. Thrasher brushes off those criticisms, saying he’s ready to lay out his vision for FSU.
“Look," he says, "I’m going to show up and I’m going to provide, before the interview a resume and a letter outlining some short term and long term goals for the university and prepare to answer any questions asked of me at that process.”
Thrasher wants to wait until his interview to discuss exactly what’s in those plans, and he has a lot of people he'll have to win over. Many observers of FSU’s search process believe it’s been rigged in Thrasher’s favor. Jennifer Proffitt, President of the United Faculty of Florida-Florida State University Chapter, argues the search process hasn't been fair or transparent, and says the desires of the faculty and students have been ignored. She and others aren’t buying the argument made by a search consultant that there were no other well qualified applicants for the job.
“We believe there is some evidence indicating the process has not been open," she said during the search committee's public comment period."Just as an example, the national advertisement for the position...included 'loyalty to FSU' as a criterion. However, 'strong academic credentials' which this body agreed was one of the criteria you’d consider, was not mentioned."
FSU Presidential Search Consultant Bill Funk says the prospect of a Thrasher Presidency has kept other, potentially more qualified candidates from applying.
The search committee wants to interview Thrasher first—if only to clear the air surrounding the search. The thought is if he’s is eliminated early, other people would be willing to apply. If he gets the job, the search will be over. The committee will interview Thrasher June 11th. A few protests have already been scheduled that day. Meanwhile, another political figure, state representative Michelle Vasilinda, of Tallahassee has thrown her name into the mix.