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FSU Wraps Up Its Presidential Forums

Richard Marchase speaking Friday at the last of four public forums.
Nick Evans
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Over the past week, the four candidates shortlisted to be Florida State University’s next president have met with staff, students and faculty in public forums.  Now it’s up to the presidential search committee and university trustees to pick a winner.  The trustees have set Tuesday as the tentative deadline.

The public forums got off to a rocky start, as state Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) took his turn fielding questions from the campus community.  The lawmaker has long been the presumed front-runner for the post because of his political clout and connections with members the search committee.  Thrasher lacks the academic qualifications of the other three candidates, and this has led to tension.  At one point, he threatened to walk out of the public interview after he felt he was heckled.  But Thrasher defends the value of his political experience.

“Just because I stop being a state senator doesn’t mean I stop being and having the kind of relationships with people that I know and have known for years in Tallahassee, whether it’s in the Legislature or someplace else,” Thrasher says.

“I’ll accept whatever judgment there is,” he continues, “and if they feel there’s somebody better to be president of Florida State University than me, God bless ‘em.  God bless ‘em.  Because I want the best for Florida State University.”

Michele Wheatly, a former provost at West Virginia University, attended similar sessions Tuesday.  She spoke about funding as well, and acknowledges the importance of working with the government to fund the school.

“On the other hand,” Wheatly says, “you can’t become overly reliant on congressionally directed funding.  We did it in the state of West Virginia, and guess why folks?  Because of Robert Byrd.  Bobby Byrd.  He was the longest running appropriator and some of the researchers got really lazy because what they did was they would just go over there and say, ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.’  That’s not a strategy.”

Originally Michael V. Martin had been scheduled to meet with community members Wednesday.  Due to an emergency eye surgery, he postponed the forum until Thursday and appeared via Skype.  Martin has served as both president for Louisiana State University, and as chancellor for the Colorado State system.  He says this gives him a unique perspective on university governance.

“I think that what I’ve come to understand is that people at the system level, first of all, need to be continually informed about what’s happening at the campus level.  It’s easy to get disconnected,” Martin says.

“I’ve told people in some respects, every new position I’ve taken, I’ve become the person I was unhappy with at the prior position,” Martin says.  “So, I’ve kind of moved up and learned some lessons: not to be quite so critical or not to be quite so indifferent to the challenges they face.”

Richard Marchase, the last of the four finalists, came to FSU Friday.  Marchase currently serves as a vice president at the University of Alabama at Birmingham – prior to that he served as the school’s interim president.  Marchase addressed the criticism surrounding the presidential search process, and says changing the conversation will be important.

“As I look at what I would want to try to get accomplished, sort of first set of priorities that you might have coming on campus, I’d say that certainly there’s been a distraction that has surrounded this presidential search,” Marchase says.  “If I’m selected, I would really want to work toward getting our focus back to things that we’re supposed to be doing, and making sure we’re educating students and doing research.”

Monday, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee meets to decide which candidates it will recommend to the university board of trustees.  The trustees have asked that at least three names be submitted.  The trustees expect to name the next president when they meet the following day.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.