A handful of lawmakers broke away from the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon to attend the inauguration of John Thrasher as Florida State University’s 15th president. Thrasher earned two degrees from the university but his path to the presidency began in 1986 when he was elected to the Clay County School Board.
From there Thrasher embarked on a career where he became one of the more powerful figures at the state Capitol. As speaker of the Florida House he worked with former Gov. Jeb Bush to reorganize how the state university system is governed. The reforms, in part, led to a presidential selection process that detractors say unfairly rewards the politically connected while supporters argue the process recognizes the skills needed in today’s world to lead a university.
FSU Board of Trustees Chair Allan Bense said the board deliberately sought a person with the talents and abilities that Thrasher possesses.
“His quick mind, his ability to listen to others’ ideas and judgment and experience and his skill at making friends for the university means that the aspirations of the board as envisioned will be met,” said Bense.
Thrasher holds a business and a law degree from FSU. While serving in the Legislature he worked the levers of power to the Seminoles’ advantage – a medical school building is named in recognition of his efforts to secure funding for the school. He also served as the first chair of the school’s Board of Trustees in 2001- 2005.
“My message to the Florida State community today is, you couldn’t have picked a better person to be your next president,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “President Thrasher was a true champion of education during his time in the Legislature. I am confident that President Thrasher will continue the same passionate, determined and tireless advocacy for Florida State.”
Thrasher served eight years in the House, four in the Senate and 20 years as a lobbyist. Critics, including faculty, cite a lack of academic credentials when objections to his candidacy arose. Tuesday Faculty Senate President Gary S. Tyson said he has observed Thrasher’s leadership style the past four months and noted he is the first president to attend a students’ dance fundraising event. Tyson graded Thrasher’s dancing ability as “average” but dancing wasn’t why he was watching.
“He was there. He was connecting. He was showing leadership,” said Tyson, who then pivoted to FSU’s goal to be ranked academically as a Top 25 institution.
“John is going to lead us there and we’re going to make it there,” said Tyson.
A contingent of politicos was on hand for the investiture of their former colleague as the Florida State University president. Seated in a side balcony were former Senate President Don Gaetz and Mrs. Gaetz. State Sens. David Simmons, Bill Montford and Garret Richter were in audience. Also attending were state Rep. Ray Renuart, Secretary of State Ken Detzner and former Attorney General and lobbyist Jim Smith.
John Thrasher’s initial contract with Florida State University pays $430,000 a year for five years. It includes an annual $100,000 performance bonus for meeting goals. It also has a retention bonus of $250,000 if Thrasher completes the five-year deal.