State Sen. John Thrasher among 11 semifinalists for FSU president

Published Sep. 6, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State University moved forward with its search for a new president Friday by selecting 11 semifinalists to bring to campus for interviews next week, including state Sen. John Thrasher.

Interim president Garnett Stokes, who came to FSU to serve as provost under former president Eric Barron, is also among the semifinalists. Barron left in April to take the reins at Pennsylvania State University.

Thrasher was the only nontraditional candidate to make the cut. Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston and state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda were eliminated from consideration.

The semifinalists include a former university president, two provosts, three deans and a university system chancellor.

The FSU Board of Trustees is expected to make a final selection Sept. 23.

As he has been throughout the process, Thrasher was the most talked about candidate during Friday's meeting and also drew the most controversy. Student and faculty representatives on the search committee unanimously backed a motion to remove Thrasher from consideration but were in the minority.

"I fear that the pool will be seriously compromised if we continue to keep Sen. Thrasher's candidacy on the table," English professor Eric Walker said before the vote.

Others on the committee disagreed and said Thrasher, an FSU alum who has raised millions for the university during his time in the Legislature and a tenure as chairman of the Board of Trustees, deserved an interview and consideration for the job.

"I don't think that we need to take anybody out of the pool," former state Sen. Al Lawson, a member of committee who once served alongside Thrasher, said. "I think the interview process will determine who is the best individual for the university."

Search consultant Alberto Pimentel urged consideration of Thrasher and said the other top candidates were aware he was in the running and still had committed to seeing the process through.

Even before Friday's vote to narrow the list of candidates, one person had withdrawn: Michael J. Friedlander, associate provost at Virginia Tech.

The meeting was disrupted early when student protesters reacted to a failed motion to reconvene the search committee to include more student and faculty representatives. Students in the audience began chanting demands to "reset the search" and later shouted "shame on you" at members of the committee who voted against the motion.

The semifinalists:

• Michael D. Amiridis, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina.

• Arthur B. Ellis, provost at City University of Hong Kong.

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• Daniel M. Fogel, former president at the University of Vermont.

• J. Murray Gibson, founding dean, Northeastern University College of Science.

• John P. Jones, dean of the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

• Richard B. Marchase, vice president for research and economic development, former interim president at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

• Michael V. Martin, chancellor of Colorado State University System.

• Kate C. Miller, dean of Texas A&M University College of Geosciences.

• FSU interim president Garnett Stokes, the school's former provost.

• State Sen. John Thrasher, a powerful Republican lawmaker and FSU alum who has never worked in academia.

• Michele G. Wheatly, who recently stepped down as provost and vice president of academic affairs at West Virginia University.