Romano: John Thrasher isn't the first politician to flirt with FSU

Published Sep. 15, 2014

They're trying to find a new president to run Florida State University, and darned if the whole thing hasn't gotten political. If I had to pick a turning point, I'd go with 1993.

In other words, the argument itself is not a new one.

Academic credentials or political connections?

Back in '93, the Board of Regents went with the politician, and Sandy D'Alemberte performed to pretty rave reviews. Nine years later, FSU chose another former politician, and T.K. Wetherell also had an admirable run in the president's office.

So, 20 years later, shouldn't the argument be moot?

Yes and no.

Yes, state Sen. John Thrasher's political career should not preclude him from the job. No, his political cronies shouldn't hand him the desk after a charade of a search.

This is where we are today. With Thrasher's supporters claiming he is the victim of a political witch hunt, and his critics claiming he is the beneficiary of a rigged process.

Strangely enough, I think they're both correct.

It was suggested by a member of FSU's Presidential Search Advisory Committee in a Tallahassee Democrat op-ed piece that resistance is based on liberals in the academic community having a problem with Thrasher's conservative political views.

Tallahassee businessman DeVoe Moore wrote that he did not see similar protests when D'Alemberte and Wetherell, both former Democratic legislators, were seeking FSU's presidency.

Moore has a point. I'm guessing Thrasher's politics have something to do with the tenor and breadth of protests, including the childish tittering when he was answering questions about climate change during a public interview on Monday.

But to claim this is a liberal conspiracy leaves out some important details.

First of all, the FSU search committee struck the first blow by trying to rig the process. The presidency was practically handed to Thrasher months ago until concerned voices on campus got involved. And while there were insinuations that Wetherell and D'Alemberte also had inside tracks on the job, it was never as blatant as this time around.

In fact, it's worth pointing out FSU's faculty did not support D'Alemberte's hiring. And when it came to Wetherell's candidacy, the faculty asked the head of the search committee (a certain John Thrasher) to recuse himself because he and Wetherell worked for the same lobbying firm.

Or course, there is also the matter of credentials. D'Alemberte and Wetherell were viewed as political candidates, but both had academic backgrounds.

D'Alemberte was a former law professor (for nine years) and law school dean (for five years) at FSU. Wetherell was a former vice president at Daytona Beach Community College and the president at Tallahassee Community College.

Thrasher's resume, while impressive, does not have the same higher ed experience.

So how will it turn out?

Well, it helps to know that the majority of the members on the search committee come from the corporate or political world. And it probably helps to know that Thrasher is running Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign, and that Board of Trustees chairman Allan Bense was appointed to his position by the governor.

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So will Thrasher's politics play a role in the decision?