Faculty and students are in an uproar at Florida State University after the school’s board of trustees voted 11-2 to appoint a recent Gov. Rick Scott campaign chair as the school’s next president.
Florida state Sen. John Thrasher, a Republican, has never worked in academia either as a professor or administrator, in contrast to three other finalists who were under consideration.
Thrasher’s consideration and selection has provoked a storm of protest from the school’s faculty. The Faculty Senate had previously approved a resolution calling Thrasher unqualified and pleaded for trustees to vote against his selection.
Besides Thrasher’s lack of administrative experience (which is stated as a requirement in the presidency’s job description), opponents of the nomination are also concerned by evidence the pick could have political motivations. Thrasher’s influence and connections run deep. Many members of the current board of trustees were appointed by Gov. Scott. Thrasher is also a former chairman of the state Republican Party and was speaker of the state House of Representatives.
Supporters of Thrasher argue that his political experience is exactly what makes him a sound pick. Thrasher’s numerous close ties to people in the state government will help the school during relevant legislative battles, they say. In addition, Thrasher was a skilled fundraiser for state Republicans and it is hoped that he will be able to apply those same skills for the benefit of Florida State, which is currently in the middle of a $1 billion capital campaign.
Opponents counter with the fact that, under state law, Thrasher will be prohibited from lobbying his former Florida legislative colleagues for two years after taking the post, a situation one of the trustees opposed to the pick described on Tuesday as “setting him up to fail.”
Thrasher’s specific political identity as a Republican is another factor in play. During a campus forum last week featuring the presidential candidates, Thrasher was asked by a law professor whether he believed in evolution, while another professor pressed him on whether he “accept[ed] the science” behind global climate change. Thrasher’s indirect responses occasionally drew laughter from some in the audience, which caused him to threaten to leave, saying he would not be heckled.
Prior to the vote selecting him on Tuesday, one faculty member explicitly mentioned Thrasher’s political background as a major stumbling block.
“We deserve a president who plays on the national stage, one who walks the walk, one who won’t put off potential donors in the other party,” said music professor Michael Buchler, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Some have also implied that trustees were under the sway of billionares Charles and David Koch, who have been exceptionally controversial at the school ever since a multi-million dollar gift was made to the school’s economics department under the condition that the brothers be allowed to screen candidates for certain faculty posts. The Kochs have given thousands of dollars both to Thrasher and many campaigns he has been affiliated with.
“FSU is not for sale,” chanted anti-Thrasher demonstrators.
Thrasher has pledged that if his selection as president is finalized (he must still be approved by the Board of Governors) he will break off all current political commitments and refuse to accept any donations that come with politically-charged strings attached. Until his final selection, however, he is continuing to run for his state Senate seat, though he has announced he is stepping away from Rick Scott’s reelection campaign.
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