Florida State University Names a New President: Or, How a University Can Be Commandeered by Political Partisanship

After a very contentious search, the Board of Trustees of Florida State University have announced that John Thrasher will be the institution’s new president.

The firm originally hired to facilitate the search was fired after faculty and students organized protests against the firm’s very obvious interest in promoting Thrasher’s candidacy and very superficial interest in finding other, competitive candidates.

In the end, the search firm was held to higher standards than the Board of Trustees, among whom the fix was clearly in before the search process even started.

Quite simply, John Thrasher has no academic qualifications to be president of Florida State University, or any university.

Thrasher has served as the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and State Chairman of the Republican Party. He is currently a State Senator and the Chairman of Governor Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.

The only qualification that the FSU Board of Trustees has cited to justify its selection of Thrasher as president is his ability as a fundraiser. As an article in the Miami Herald put it, “”Supporters say Thrasher, 70, is the best person to help FSU reach its $1 billion fundraising goal and its aspiration to become one of the top 25 public universities.”

So, everything has been reduced to a grossly simplistic equation: a $1 billion fundraising campaign will automatically made FSU one of the 25 best universities in the United States.

The author of the article in the Miami Herald has also noted that after Thrasher’s public presentation, only 11% of those in attendance rated his responses to questions positively, while 87% rated them negatively. Granted, opponents of his candidacy had packed the hall. But, in an item in Inside Higher Ed, it was reported that when some in the audience responded derisively to one of his answers, he announced that if they were going to laugh at him, he would simply leave. That sort of response would be dubious from someone who was already president, but from a candidate for such a position, it is ridiculous.

One does not need to be a gifted prognosticator to anticipate that the Thrasher administration will impose a new “civility” code that will be challenged in a myriad of ways.

The only positives to be found in this situation are that Thrasher is 70 years old and not likely to have a very extended tenure as president and that the current Far-Right control of the state government appears to be a short-term phenomenon.



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