In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Political clout, not credentials, on tap for top FSU post

At least when a South Carolina political hack was foisted onto the College of Charleston, students protested.

When Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a longtime politician with no academic work experience (and a penchant for dressing up in Confederate gray at Civil War battle reenactments), was named president in March by the College of Charleston Board of Trustees — ignoring recommendations of its own search committee — the kids hit the streets.

Students launched a series of campus demonstrations. The student government and faculty senate voted no-confidence motions against the board. The chairman of the College of Charleston foundation warned the board that if “the politicization of this process occurs, the consequences will be far-reaching.”

At least they protested.

In Florida, elevating unqualified politicians to top jobs in state universities has become so ordinary that the students hardly raise a peep of dissent.

John Thrasher is the latest Florida pol worming his way into a university presidency, despite a résumé bereft of academic credentials. Who cares about academic qualifications? Thrasher has what it takes. He has political clout.

Thrasher was a lobbyist and a state rep and a lobbyist again. Lately, he’s a state senator. More important to his apparent ascendency to the presidency at Florida State University, he was chairman of the state Republican Party.

And really, who needs a PhD when you’re co-chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign?

Thrasher did occasionally meddle in academia during his legislative career. When the Florida Board of Regents defied Thasher and failed to approve a new medical school at FSU, his alma mater, the then-speaker of the house saw to it that the disobedient board was abolished in 2001. FSU got its medical school — not that Florida needed the expense of a third state med school — and named one of the new building after its sugar daddy. (Voters, in 2003, approved a constitutional amendment establishing the Florida Board of Governors to oversee the state university system.)

FSU’s search committee had been compiling a list of highly qualified academic administrators to recommend for the job. It was all a façade. None of those names mattered. On June 11, the committee will be interviewing Thrasher — and only Thrasher — for the job. There’s not much suspense about the outcome.

Last week, the FSU Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida issued an angry, if slightly naïve statement about the unseemly selection process: “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.”

But really. This is Florida. The FSU professors can’t be all that shocked. Pols have parlayed their political juice into presidencies at the University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Florida. Thrasher will be the third former state legislator to land the top post at FSU.

No matter that Trasher’s 70, rather creaky for someone after a college presidency. Except that in Florida, politician power never gets old.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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