Thrasher In, Stokes Out—Search Committee Whittles FSU Presidential Candidates To Four

Sep 9, 2014

Credit Florida State University

Two of the most prominent candidates hoping to lead Florida State University, state Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) and FSU Interim President Garnett Stokes took their turns in front of the presidential search committee Tuesday. But one of them hasn’t made it to the final list.

At the start of the search, Thrasher appeared to be a shoo-in for the position, with officials announcing plans to start by interviewing just him. But after outcry from faculty and students, the search committee hired a new consultant* and announced plans to focus on finding a leader with strong academic credentials.

Still, as officials narrowed their list of applicants from nearly 40 to less than a dozen this week, Thrasher stayed on the list. And during his interview the senator said he can more than make up for what some see as a lack of experience in the higher education.

“When I was general counsel of the Florida Medical Association for 20 years, I felt like I taught a lot of physicians about civics, about government, about medical malpractice. I was in a teaching kind of position for a long time," Thrasher said. "When I was Speaker of the House of Representatives, I felt like I had everyday the opportunity, as Chairman [Allan] Bense would understand, I had the opportunity to teach 120 members of the Florida House of Representatives.”

Thrasher says he wants to ensure professors are paid competitive salaries, bump up the school’s private fundraising efforts and seek input from stakeholders if he’s picked for the job.

Meanwhile as search committee chair Ed Burr points out, interim President Garnett Stokes's qualifications are already a known factor for most of the committee.

And Stokes wasn’t the only candidate able to highlight a strong academic track record. Michele Wheatly recently left her post as provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia University.

"I built my resume at the University of Florida, which is an amazing institution. It gave me the opportunity to build an astonishing career. I did all the things that we ask professors to do – teaching large sections of general education, which was 650 students in a little hall at 7:25 in the morning – all the way to training doctoral students. I raised lots of NSF funding. I was very successful there and made full professor there within 10 years, which is very fast,” Wheatly says.

NSF is the federally funded National Science Foundations. Wheatly says if she's selected, she hopes to help Florida State move forward in its push toward focusing on more science, technology, engineering and math programs.  

But some are questioning whether committee members are placing more value on political pull than academics. Despite several motions to add Stokes to a list of second round candidates, she didn’t make the cut. Thrasher did.

He and Wheatly are among the top four for the job, as are Richard Marchase, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University system. The four will participate in a series of public forums on campus. The first is scheduled for Sept. 15.

*A pervious version of this story said the FSU presidential search committee fired its first consultant, but officials say the consultant actually resigned amid the outcry.