FSU search committee recommends 4 presidential finalists

John Thrasher
John Thrasher AP

Florida State University’s presidential search committee wrapped up its work Monday by agreeing to recommend all four finalists, including state Sen. John Thrasher, to the school’s Board of Trustees.

The board will interview the four finalists Tuesday before making their pick. In addition to Thrasher, the finalists are former West Virginia University provost Michele Wheatly, Colorado State University System Chancellor Michael Martin and Richard Marchase, vice president of research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Trustee Ed Burr, a Jacksonville businessman who has supported Thrasher politically, chaired the committee and argued to keep Thrasher in contention.

“Our commitment was to make sure there was a credible pool of candidates for the Board of Trustees to select from,” he said. “And I think this committee showed that that pool should include a fourth candidate, a non-traditional candidate, which was John Thrasher.”

Student body President Stefano Cavallaro and Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson are both trustees; most if not all the remaining 11 members are appointed by Gov. Rick Scott or by the state Board of Governors, comprised mostly of Scott appointees.

Thrasher is chairman of Scott’s re-election campaign.

“It’s a diverse board of trustees,” Burr said. “They all have the best interest of FSU at heart.”

Burr said trustees will consider results of an online survey. Of 696 responses, 87 percent scored Thrasher below-average or said he was not qualified for the job. Only 11 percent gave Thrasher an outstanding or good score.

By comparison, 91 percent gave high marks to Wheatly, 88 percent scored Martin well and 75 percent of respondents gave the highest scores to Marchase. Martin and Marchase had a little over 100 people fill out surveys on their behalf; Wheatly’s survey had 239 responses.

It was clear from the start of Monday’s debate that the three traditional candidates would all be recommended. But once again FSU faculty and students lobbied against keeping Thrasher as a candidate for the job, citing the survey results and his lack of academic credentials. Others said Thrasher deserved to remain a candidate because of his commitment to FSU, leadership skills and fundraising abilities.

Physics Professor Todd Adams voted to recommend all four finalists to the trustees, but said he hopes trustees are paying attention to the dissent.

“I hope the Board of Trustees will look at the candidates and all of the information that is there ... and that they will consider who will do the best job leading Florida State forward,” he said.