State Sen. John Thrasher is one of four finalists for FSU president

After an interview that showcased his passion for Florida State University but also his lack of academic leadership credentials, state Sen. John Thrasher was named one of four finalists to become the school’s next president.

The others are former West Virginia University provost Michele Wheatly, Colorado State University System chancellor Michael Martin and Richard Marchase, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. FSU interim president Garnett Stokes did not make the cut.

Search committee chairman Ed Burr, a Jacksonville businessman, said he believes Thrasher deserves to stay in the running.

“This committee is an advisory committee, and I think it’s about giving good choices to the constituents at the university and ultimately the board of trustees,” Burr said.

The finalists will each spend a day on campus next week meeting with students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The search committee is expected to send at least three names to the trustees, who will make a final selection Sept. 23.

Wheatly, who for a decade was a zoology professor at the University of Florida, won over faculty members with her bubbly personality and loaded resume. Martin’s tenure as a former university president and chancellor of a three-campus Colorado system also put him on the narrowed list alongside Marchase, who spent a year as UAB’s interim president.

There were several failed attempts to add Stokes to the list of finalists, but search consultant Alberto Pimentel warned the search committee that either Marchase or Martin could drop out of the running if they felt too many finalists remained in the competition. The panel decided the prospect of losing their top candidates was not worth the risk and voted to cut Stokes, though she could be added back if a finalist drops out.

Thrasher, a well-connected FSU alum and powerful politician who has funneled millions of state dollars to the school and was its first board of trustees chairman, continues to draw the most attention and controversy.

Although some students and faculty members spoke in favor of Thrasher’s candidacy, many others said he does not have the qualifications FSU needs.

Tuesday’s news that FSU had slipped in the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the nation’s top universities only fueled their concerns. Almost a fourth of that ranking is based on a school’s national reputation, and several speakers Tuesday told the committee that in order to boost its score, the school needs a president with a national profile in higher education. “One current candidate, John Thrasher, clearly fails to meet such a standard,” said Gary Burnett, a professor in the College of Communication and Information.

Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who likely will be re-elected in November, said he has no lack of fans.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who you don’t hear from, or these folks haven’t heard from, that are incredibly supportive of this,” he said after his interview.