Florida State poised to select next president. Nine are on short list.

Some high-profile names are among the 22 candidates considered by a search committee.
The entrance to Ruby Diamond Auditorium on the Florida State University campus, where a search committee is deciding on a successor to president John Thrasher.
The entrance to Ruby Diamond Auditorium on the Florida State University campus, where a search committee is deciding on a successor to president John Thrasher. [ BILL LAX | Bill Lax/FSU Photo Lab ]
Published May 11, 2021|Updated May 11, 2021

A search committee looking for the next president of Florida State University on Tuesday developed a short list of nine candidates that includes state education commissioner Richard Corcoran.

The committee chose Corcoran and the others from a candidate pool of 22 people. Two other high-profile candidates — Frank Brogan and Jeff Kottkamp, who served terms as Florida lieutenant governor — did not make the list.

The candidates were vetted by a search firm, SP&A, hired to assist in finding a successor to outgoing FSU president John Thrasher. The firm presented the committee with the list and applications of all 22 candidates, and selected 11 candidates to discuss further. The search committee then picked nine people to interview on Friday and Saturday.

The meeting opened with concerns from members of the public that some candidates lacked higher education experience or had potential conflicts of interest. Members of the search firm responded that 16 candidates came from traditional backgrounds and said that the public nature of the process led some qualified candidates to withdraw their names.

Related: FSU president John Thrasher will retire. Trustees announce national search.

The most controversy erupted around Corcoran, a graduate of St. Leo University and Regent School of Law.

In his role as education commissioner, Corcoran serves on the Florida Board of Governors, which has final approval on the president position at each of the state universities.

Michael Buchler, an FSU professor in the College of Music, said universities are being treated like “political footballs.”

“In no sane world would we consider someone who has never led a university, never served as president or vice provost of a university, someone who only has degrees from small private universities, and someone who repeatedly tried to funnel our money toward private schools,” he said. “If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is.”

Nancy Rogers, another FSU professor, echoed those concerns. She mentioned the potential loss of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation — something being discussed in Georgia after the association launched an inquiry into whether there was undue political pressure to appoint former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, in a paused search for chancellor of that state’s university system.

Losing accreditation “would have enormous repercussions, not the least of which that our students would lose their federal financial aid,” Rogers said.

Pam Perrewé, an FSU professor and member of the search committee, said the FSU Faculty Senate Steering Committee suggests the search committee pass a short conflict of interest policy to exclude candidates who have a “conflicting, supervisory role” over the search.

The 15-member search committee is comprised of members of the FSU Board of Trustees, faculty, students, staff, a member of the Florida Board of Governors and community stakeholders.

Search committee chair Bob Sasser, chairman of the Dollar Tree chain and a member of FSU’s Board of Trustees, said all the candidates were “extremely qualified.”

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Search committee member Ed Burr, chair of the FSU Board of Trustees, said, while no conflict existed in Florida law or FSU policy, the panel would look into the issue raised regarding the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Committee member Craig Mateer, CEO of CCM Capital Group Services and an FSU trustee, said he supported proceeding with Corcoran. He quoted Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters as calling Corcoran “a young John Thrasher.”

Committee member Leslie Pantin echoed the support.

“He certainly has a recent history in the Florida House with many of the leaders now in leadership positions in the House,” he said.

The shortlisted candidates are:

  • Robert Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • David Coburn, vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at Florida State University
  • Corcoran, Florida Commissioner of Education, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
  • Randall Hanna, current dean of FSU Panama City and the College of Applied Studies, former chancellor of Florida College System from 2011 to 2015.
  • Richard D. McCullough, vice provost for research at Harvard University, and the vice president for research at Carnegie Mellon University from 2007 to 2012.
  • Dr. Giovanni Piedimonte, current vice president for research and institutional official of Tulane University
  • Sean Pittman, managing partner and CEO at Pittman Law group and past president of the Orange Bowl committee. He’s a former member of the Florida Board of Regents and served on past search committees for two FSU presidents, athletic director, dean of College of Law
  • Mary Ann Rankin, former senior vice president and provost of University of Maryland, College Park, Md., from 2012 to 2021.
  • Michael Young, a former president of three universities: Texas A&M from 2015 to 2020, University of Washington from 2011 to 2015 and the University of Utah from 2004 to 2011.

The others in the original candidate pool are:

  • David Blackwell, provost and chief academic officer of the University of Kentucky
  • Brogan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, former chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, former chancellor of the Florida State University System, former president of Florida Atlantic University and former lieutenant governor under Gov. Jeb Bush
  • Robert L. Clark, provost and senior vice president for research at the University of Rochester
  • Erick Jones, president of the International Supply Chain Education Alliance International Standards Board
  • Kottkamp, former lieutenant governor under Gov. Charlie Crist, former member of Florida House of Representatives, FSU alum
  • Richard Smith Larson, executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center
  • Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky, dean of the University of Missouri School of Law
  • Myrna Amelia Mesa, attorney and counselor at law, former experience with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Attorney’s Office
  • Romain Murenzi, executive director of The World Academy of Sciences, a program within the science sector of the United Nations Education Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO)
  • Peter Bowman Rutledge, dean of University of Georgia School of Law
  • James Weyhenmeyer, president of the Auburn University Research & Technology Foundation, vice president for research and economic development at Auburn
  • Gregory Williams, former president of the University of Cincinnati, former president of the City College of New York
  • Cynthia Y. Young, founding dean for College of Science at Clemson University, former vice provost at the University of Central Florida