BY JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Hundreds of students, faculty and staff came out Monday directing pointed questions to Sen. John Thrasher, an influential political figure who is the lone non-academic finalist for the job of Florida State University president.
Thrasher is seeking to succeed former President Eric Barron, an academic with a track record in fundraising who was named president of Penn State University in February.
During on-campus forums that are part of the presidential selection process, students and faculty often expressed a lack of trust in Thrasher, long considered the front runner for the university job.
During his long political career, Thrasher has steered millions of state dollars to the university and helped create the FSU medical school, but he also has recorded numerous votes that have been opposed by teachers and unions.
Some of the students see Thrasher as an extension of the politically influential Koch Brothers, whose foundation since 2008 has helped fund the FSU economics department.
The billionaire brothers draw distain from some students for their support for conservative endeavors and for what is seen as the foundation’s influence over the curriculum and hiring of professors.
Sitting in a chair before about 100 members of the FSU staff in the morning, nearly 200 faculty and later about 150 students, Thrasher acknowledged his law degree from the school may not be the academic credentials desired by many of the faculty. More importantly, he indicated that through his extensive legislative and lobbying experience, he would be able to complete the $1 billion fundraising goal set by Barron in 2013.
Thrasher faced questions about issues such as how he would increase diversity on campus, his lack of academic credentials, his legislative support for prison privatization, his support of a proposal that would have moved toward splitting the Florida A&M University-FSU College of Engineering and his continued desire for the job despite the student and faculty opposition.
Heckled by students
Still, at one point Thrasher threatened to walk out due to heckling from a small group, mostly graduate assistant students, seated in the front during the faculty forum, while he was acknowledging a need to learn more about climate change.
Michele G. Wheatly, who until June had been provost at West Virginia University, will go through the review process on Tuesday.
Colorado State University System Chancellor Michael V. Martin is scheduled for Wednesday.
The fourth finalist, Richard B. Marchase, University of Alabama at Birmingham vice president for research and economic development, is set to appear Friday.
Using feedback from the forums, the university’s 27-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee is scheduled Sept. 22 to make a recommendation to the university’s trustees.
The trustees, who would still have to forward the final choice to the university system’s Board of Governors, are scheduled to meet Sept. 23.