And in Florida State University news: the Heisman-winning quarterback is a clueless brat with a million-dollar arm and a five-cent head; the feds are investigating our handling of sexual assault accusations; and the new president-elect is a Koch-head political hack known for ethics violations.
Higher education in Florida, y’all.
The presidential “search” was a farce. A spectacle of wide-eyed pretense, bad faith, and cronyism of the baldest kind.
The Trustees had picked their man months ago: John Thrasher, Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign chair, a state senator with zero academic experience, a man so thin-skinned and so arrogant he became petulant and threatened to stalk out of his interview when some grad students snickered at his ludicrous non-answers.
This is the man who is directing the campaign to re-elect Rick Scott as governor — that would be the Rick Scott who’s famously hostile to universities.
In April, William Funk, a head-hunter with the search firm FSU hired to recruit candidates for the job vacated by the stellar Eric Barron, recommended Thrasher be the only candidate interviewed for the presidency. Public ridicule, faculty outrage and the last fading shreds of shame amongst Board of Trustees members inspired Funk to resign.
The search was “reset.” Some genuinely qualified people applied — system chancellors, former college presidents, administrators and scholars with years of experience running large, complex academic institutions.
But Thrasher loves FSU, you see. Loves it to death.
Thrasher’s application (apparently he didn’t feel the need to submit one back when he figured to be the only candidate) was given a facelift by one Steve MacNamara.
He’s the former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Haridopoulos (best known for exaggerating his academic qualifications), chief of staff to Scott (until forced to resign over the steering of no-bid contracts to friends) and, though MacNamara has no Ph.D. and no real scholarly publications, a full professor in FSU’s College of Communications.
Alberto Pimentel, head of the new search firm FSU hired, admitted Thrasher would never be a serious candidate for a university job anywhere other than Florida.
It’s just that he LOVES FSU.
Florida’s special, see. You don’t need qualifications. You don’t need to know that the “M” in STEM stands for Mathematics (not, as Thrasher said, Medicine). You don’t need to know how the Faculty Senate operates or what “salary inversion” means. Or that evolution and global climate change are pretty much settled science.
No, you simply need to know the people doing the hiring.
Thrasher’s always been tight with the Board of Trustees: after all, he helped create it. In 2001, he and Jeb Bush hatched a plan to dismantle the Affirmative Action-friendly Board of Regents, which had the temerity to rule that FSU didn’t need a medical school.
FSU now has a medical school, located in a building named for John Thrasher. Why pick the lock when you can just take the door off the hinges and, while you’re at it, outlaw doors?
Allan Bense, current chair of the Trustees, is a former Speaker of the House and Thrasher’s Republican ally. Jacksonville developer Ed Burr is Thrasher’s friend. Joseph Gruters and Brent Sembler are grandees within the Republican Party. Emily Fleming Duda married into a sugar baron family that seems always to be in court protecting its right to pollute the Everglades. Kathryn Ballard is the daughter of Jim Smith, a former Trustee, and wife of Brian Ballard, a big time lobbyist and campaign contributor to Scott.
At the Board of Trustees’ meeting Tuesday, some brave souls did wonder aloud exactly how a guy — who undoubtedly loves FSU — is going to bring in all this mythical money from the Legislature or anywhere else.
State law bans Thrasher from lobbying for two years after leaving office. Every Florida university is after that money, too. And since when is there suddenly going to be all this cash for higher ed? This is Florida — cheap and proud of it.
Thrasher’s already begun what one must (with a faint sense of nausea) call his “charm offensive.” He’s talking about raising graduate stipends. And faculty salaries. And scooping up research money. And taking FSU to the promised land of the Top 25 public universities in the country.
To quote a novel FSU’s president-elect has probably never read, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Diane Roberts is a professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.