Florida State University picks powerful politician as president

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2014 5:57 PM

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Florida State University on Tuesday selected a powerful state politician to serve as its next president over the loud objections of angry faculty members and students.

John Thrasher, a Republican political veteran and state senator who lacks academic credentials but is chairman of Governor Rick Scott's reelection campaign, was selected by the university's Board of Trustees.

The 11-2 vote was greeted by a brief, furious outburst from about 50 student protesters, many waving signs with messages like "choose an academic" and "this is OUR university."

Thrasher, 70, is a former state House speaker who once led the Florida Republican Party. He touted his connections and political savvy as the key to raising funds to elevate FSU into a top-tier research university.

He pledged to repair relations with students and faculty that were strained during the drawn out and controversial presidential search.

"That’s what you do, try to reach out and find common ground,” Thrasher said in a phone interview after the vote.

Thrasher planned to continue running for reelection to the state Senate until the Board of Governors of the state university system approves his selection in November, as is widely expected.

The FSU Faculty Senate had unanimously voted to support the three other finalists for the job, all of whom had stronger academic credentials.

While Thrasher received his undergraduate and law degrees from FSU, faculty members had demanded a president with a doctoral degree and experience in higher education.

“You’d never choose a fire chief who’d never been a firefighter,” communications professor Jennifer Proffitt told the 13-member Board of Trustees before the vote. “Please do the right thing, not the political thing.”

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She warned that the university, which has about 41,000 students, could lose prestige nationally for choosing a politician as its president.

But former FSU President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, who nominated Thrasher for the job, lauded the value of his connections.

“I’m a liberal,” D’Alemberte said, chuckling about his political differences with Thrasher, a conservative. “But I’ve watched him in action. He comes from a collegial environment and he’ll be a good president.”

(Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Editing by Letitia Stein, Sandra Maler and Eric Beech)