Just a few weeks ago it appeared that Florida State University was ready to join a line of U.S. colleges that have turned to powerful politicians to lead their schools.
But on Wednesday a university search committee opted to revamp a tumultuous search for a new president in the midst of a backlash over initially designating state Sen. John Thrasher the front-runner for the job.
The main change was to hire a new consulting firm to help with the search after the previous consultant abruptly resigned earlier this week.
FSU has been without a permanent president since Eric Barron stepped down to take the top job at Penn State University. His departure came while the university is in the middle of a large fundraising campaign. Some FSU alumni have pushed to get a successor on board as quickly as possible, but some faculty members have urged the university to take its time to find a new president.
The search committee, which is made up of FSU alumni, trustees, students and faculty, left unsettled when it would set a deadline for applications, or whether it would revise the criteria for the post. The committee did agree to retain all current applicants which includes Thrasher as well as Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.
“Our mission has been very clear from the beginning,” said Ed Burr, chairman of the FSU search committee. “It’s an open, thorough and honest search to find the very best president we can.”
It’s not clear, however, if faculty and students roiled by the prospect of Thrasher becoming president agreed. Several of them complained about the search before the vote was taken and said that faculty members and students do not have a big enough say in the process.
Allan Bense, a former House speaker and chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees, insisted after the meeting that the search for a new president remains “wide open” and that Thrasher is not a lock for the job.
“I’m doing all I can to do away with that myth,” Bense said.
Bense and other search committee members narrowly voted last month to interview Thrasher first and decide whether to offer him the position. That move was made after search consultant Bill Funk said Thrasher’s interest was discouraging other qualified candidates from applying for the job.
But the interview was postponed after Polston stepped forward and applied for the job. Meanwhile, faculty and students sharpened their criticism of Thrasher over his lack of academic credentials and his support for legislation to limit tenure for public school teachers. Last week the FSU Faculty Senate criticized the search process and said it had “lost confidence” in the consultant.
The FSU faculty union on Wednesday presented a petition with more than a 1,000 signatures calling for the university to start over the entire search.
Ned Stuckey-French, an FSU English professor, said the comments contained in the petition made it clear that “people do not trust politicians in Florida to be presidents of their university.”
Reprinted with permission from the Associated Press.