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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State University is set to pick a new president on Tuesday, despite criticism from some students and faculty that the search has been designed the entire time to steer the job to powerful state Sen. John Thrasher.
Thrasher is the chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election committee and was among the list of four finalists chosen on Monday to interview with FSU's board. The other three candidates already hold jobs in higher education in Alabama, West Virginia and Colorado. Thrasher is an attorney who has also been a speaker of the Florida House and a lobbyist.
Ed Burr, a FSU board member and chairman of the search committee that selected the finalists, said there was no "fix" to pick the St. Augustine Republican. Burr, who has ties to the same northeast Florida political circles that Thrasher has been involved with for the last two decades, also contended that he has not yet made his mind up on who to hire.
"No one has told anyone how to vote," Burr said. "It's a diverse board of trustees, they all have the best interests of FSU at heart."
Supporters of Thrasher have cited his long-standing allegiance to his alma mater and his track record at helping FSU over the years as reasons to support him. Thrasher was one of the driving forces who helped FSU gain a medical school more than a decade ago.
But Thrasher's march to the final selection has been with increasingly strident opposition, some of it with a partisan bent. FSU's faculty senate is also now opposed to his hiring as is the local newspaper in Tallahassee. Thrasher's decision to sidestep questions from students on issues such as climate change has also drawn fire because the school is trying to boost its reputation among the nation's research universities.
FSU has been without a president since Eric Barron left in April to take the top post at Penn State University. The process to hire a successor has been bumpy ever since Thrasher emerged as a candidate. Initially FSU planned to interview him ahead of all candidates but that created a backlash and ultimately led to the search being delayed.
Since the search resumed, faculty members pushed for a vote to leave Thrasher off the list of candidates. It has been defeated each time.
Jennifer Proffitt, president of FSU's faculty union, called the decision to keep Thrasher as one of the finalists a "travesty." She said it was apparent that the search committee had decided to ignore the overwhelming opposition to his candidacy over his lack of academic credentials.
"The campus spoke loud and clear," Proffitt said.
The other candidates include former West Virginia University Provost Michele Wheatly, Colorado State University System chancellor Michael Martin and University of Alabama at Birmingham vice president Richard Marchase.
FSU's search firm hired private investigators to do background checks on each of the four candidates. They also conducted interviews with co-workers and colleagues where the names of those interviewed were kept confidential. Consultant Alberto Pimentel said he did not find anything that would disqualify any of the finalists from consideration.
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