TALLAHASSEE — A small but determined band of students wants to “reset” Florida State University’s presidential search, calling it a “national embarrassment.”
About 30 undergraduates and graduate students met Tuesday night on campus to discuss a plan by a coalition of progressive student organizations. They want to restructure the search committee, which they say is captured by business interests.
“It’s great if outsiders want to help select the next president,” said Jerry Funt, a senior from Tampa and co-president of the FSU Progress Coalition. “But inside stakeholders should have a lot more say.”
The university is seeking to replace former president Eric Barron, who departed in April for the top job at Pennsylvania State University.
But critics of the selection process say state Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican, gamed the system by sending signals through back channels earlier this year that he was interested in the presidency.
Moreover, Funt and others say it’s wrong for the 27-member committee to include only three students and four faculty members. Businesspeople and current and former lawmakers make up much of the panel.
They plan to ask FSU Board of Trustees chair Allen Bense, a former Florida House speaker, to remake the committee into one-third students, one-third faculty and one-third “other.”
Bense could not be reached for comment on the proposal late Tuesday.
The search committee suspended its work to interview Thrasher, but the backlash from students and faculty led to the then-search consultant stepping aside and the search process being restarted soon after.
Thrasher, a longtime lawmaker, also chairs Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. The 70-year-old first served in the Florida House of Representatives, rising to speaker in 1999-2000, then was elected to the Senate in 2009.
Thrasher is a lawyer and former lobbyist, and chaired the Republican Party of Florida.
He’s also a Seminole; he received his undergraduate and law degrees from FSU, and the building that houses the university’s medical school is named after him.
As of Tuesday’s deadline for applications, 27 names were in contention, including state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.
The entire list is at www.presidentialsearch.fsu.edu/applications/.
The search committee will hold a meeting and conference call on Friday “to discuss candidates and select finalists,” according to the website.
Next Monday and Tuesday, committee members will conduct initial interviews with selected candidates. From Sept. 15-18, those finalists will come to campus to be interviewed.
Campus feedback is due Sept. 19, and the committee meets again to announce its decision Sept. 22. The FSU Board of Trustees meets the next day to ratify the committee’s pick.
“We need to pack that meeting” on Friday, said Lissa Reed, a senior from Coral Springs. “We need to show them that students think this (process) is not OK.”