TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston on Saturday jumped into the race to become the next president of Florida State University.
Polston's decision to job to seek the top spot at his alma mater is a surprising development since right now the frontrunner for the position is state Sen. John Thrasher. Thrasher, a political heavyweight who is chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's campaign, has already been moved ahead of all other potential candidates by a FSU search committee.
But Thrasher's candidacy has come under fire from some FSU faculty and students who have suggested he is getting the nod due to his political connections. The search committee agreed to interview Thrasher at a June meeting after a search consultant told members that the university was having trouble attracting other high profile candidates in the wake of Thrasher's interest in the job.
FSU has been without a permanent president since Eric Barron stepped down earlier this year to take the top spot at Penn State University. While Barron was highly regarded by FSU alumni his decision to leave came as a shock to many FSU supporters since it occurred during the middle of a large fundraising campaign. FSU is also in the middle of an effort, aided by extra money from the state, to bolster its ranks among American universities.
In his letter to the FSU search committee Polston said that he was applying out a deep loyalty to his alma mater. Polston has two degrees from FSU including his law degree.
"I am not seeking a career path upward in the university system," Polston wrote. "I am not being critical of President Barron in any way for leaving, but the practical effect of his exit is that we are now faced with following through with a plan in the initial stages, and in a very disruptive search proceeding.
"At a time when we should be taking great strides to advance FSU in a unified way, we are experiencing divisive events," Polston wrote. "We need unity to achieve our goals."
If Polston were to win the position, however, it would require Scott to make an appointment to the Supreme Court in the middle of a tough re-election campaign.
Since he has become governor Scott has faulted the court several times for some of its rulings. Polston, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Charlie Crist, has been in the minority on several high profile decisions including one this past week to allow the introduction of evidence in an ongoing trial over Florida's redistricting efforts.
Polston makes it clear in his letter that he would remain on the bench until the mandatory retirement age if he is not selected as FSU president.