We began hearing that Sen. Thrasher was a shoe-in to replace Dr. Eric Barron as President of Florida State University soon after Barron’s departure, but with Tuesday’s formal nomination by Sandy D’Alemberte and the recent news that the search committee advised by higher education expert Bill Funk is suspending its mission until it meets with Thrasher for an interview, it seems it may be all over but the shoutin’ when it comes to the Rules Chair’s anointment.
Thrasher’s potential ascent is a very bad idea. Apart from his relatively thin academic credentials (a J.D. is sufficient but far from ideal for a prospective leader of an important research institution), the lobbyist-turned-politician-turned-lobbyist-turned-back-again would be an overtly political and, frankly, anti-intellectual choice.
Of course there is nearly always a political aspect to these appointments. The question is, political in what direction and in whose interest? Following scandals stemming from multimillion-dollar contributions from the Koch brothers transforming the economics department and the ongoing federal Title IX investigation involving the institution’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault complaints, Thrasher’s assumption of the reins would all but cement the reputation of contemporary Florida State as a right-wing institution where Heismans matter more than Fulbrights and academic freedom is circumscribed by the will of private benefactors. This would desecrate FSU’s venerable legacy as a jewel of the New South, where study of the liberal arts and progressive student activism flourished in the heart of rural North Florida.
Thrasher is an extremely divisive figure. The university’s faculty union has declared they’ve lost confidence in the search process due to the “long shadow” he’s cast over it, and a source inside the State University System tells us that Board of Governors member Edward Morton’s ‘No’ vote on Thrasher’s candidacy represented the Board’s sentiments as a whole but that only Morton was willing to face the possible political reprisal should his bid succeed.
FSU watchers’ ears pricked up back in April during Sen. Thrasher’s attempt to decouple FAMU and FSU’s joint engineering school — essentially destroying FAMU’s half of the endeavor in the process– with a sneaky budget amendment which would also have appropriated extra funds to the latter at the expense of the former.
Thrasher is of course a ‘Nole himself, but this brazen gambit to bring bacon homeward to a college hundreds of miles from his Flagler County-based Senate district gave off the distinct impression that Thrasher coveted the plum job at the helm of his alma mater and, more sinister, that perhaps FSU had already made a deal with him. According to a statement issued by United Faculty of Florida, Florida State University Chapter:
As this process began, there were numerous accounts in the media indicating that this search was merely for appearances’ sake and that FSU’s new president had already been selected behind closed doors. We trusted the rebuttals of those involved with the search, we believed the assertions that the search would be open, fair, and include faculty input, and we operated accordingly, providing input at any opportunity we had. We now believe that there is ample evidence indicating that this process is not being conducted fairly, is not open and transparent, and is ignoring the needs of the faculty, students and taxpayers.
[W]e believe that the current search firm must be replaced. It has exhibited a serious lack of regard for the opinions and input of our faculty and appears to be pursuing an agenda different than that of an open and honest search for the best candidates. Second, we believe that the current search committee must be expanded to include more faculty members. Finally, we believe that a clear timeline must be established and adhered to, one that includes benchmarks for public disclosure and participation.
The presidential search committee would do well to heed this advice. We hope that all readers of the Squeeze who are alums or have other ties to FSU will stand up and not allow John Thrasher to ingratiate, intimidate, and misappropriate his way to the top of a great academic institution.