Outpouring of support for John Thrasher as FSU president

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State Sen. John Thrasher is clearly the most popular candidate for Florida State University president, especially if you are counting letters of recommendation.

Considered by many to be the front-runner for the FSU position, the influential St. Augustine Republican received 10 letters of support — and two in opposition — since the search begun, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

No other applicant, including Democratic state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston received more than one outside reference tendered to the search committee. On Saturday, Polston announced he was in the running.

“There are several tough decisions facing the next president, wrote attorney and former Republican legislator Ron Richmond, “and I don’t think bringing in another academician is the best thing for FSU.”

Richmond has a part FSU since arriving on campus from Indiana in 1959 to play basketball.

“We need someone from the political and business community to face and deal with those difficult decisions,” he added. “John Thrasher is that man.”

FSU has not had a permanent president since April 2, Turner notes, when Eric Barron stepped down to be president of Penn State University.

Student and faculty groups are pushing for a replacement with similar academic qualifications as Barron, who was an FSU graduate, professor of geosciences and director of an environmental institute.

On the other hand, John Thrasher is receiving bipartisan support, such as from former Democratic state lawmaker Steve Geller, who served in both the Florida House and Senate from 1988 through 2008.

Senate President Don Gaetz also submitted a letter saying John Thrasher would be an “unconventional president” and explained that leading a university is similar to political leadership.

“He has devoted his professional life to public service and the law,” Gaetz wrote. “But if that were a disqualifier, then America’s greatest public university, the University of Virginia, could not have been founded and managed by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. And, arguably, FSU’s strongest position ever was reached under President Sandy D’Alemberte and President T.K. Wetherell, who both made their bones in public service, lawmaking and, famously in the case of President D’Alemberte, lawyering.”

From 1992 to 2000, John Thrasher served in the House, with the last two years as speaker. Currently, he chairs the Senate Rules Committee and also leads Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election effort.

Nominating him for the position was D’Alemberte, a Democrat who served as FSU president from 1994 to 2003.

John Thrasher also has his opponents, which include faculty members and students, Turner writes.

“Conservative politics will ignite a combustible, explosive and polarizing impact for students at Florida State and for other stakeholders across Leon County.” said Democratic Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor in a letter to the committee.

“You have an opportunity to build upon the legacy of Eric Barron whose leadership style and approach to stakeholders of our community was respected,” Proctor continued. “The choice of John Thrasher does not build on this legacy. Instead, this choice would sink Florida State University into an era of backwardness, good ole boyness and lost respect as a meaningful center of higher education.”

On May 21, the FSU presidential search committee voted 15-9 to interview only Thrasher on June 11. Ed Burr, committee chair, announced on Tuesday that due to an outburst of interest in the position, he suggested delaying John Thrasher’s planned exclusive interview.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.