To my colleagues on the FSU faculty: It’s time to get ready for President Thrasher

In my 28 years at Florida State, I’ve served only one academic year in the Faculty Senate. That was 2002-2003, the year of the presidential search that resulted in the hiring of TK Wetherell, who was then President of Tallahassee Community College and had previously been Speaker of the Florida House (and he had run a kickoff back for a touchdown against Miami in the 1960’s).  The Faculty Senate, seeing the presidential search tilt toward TK, considered a motion of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. I stood up and argued that since the only thing the Board really does is hire a president that it would be counterproductive to fight them over the presidential hire – that it might permanently ruin the relationship between the faculty and the Board. I suggested that the Faculty Senate save its energy for coaxing our new president to hire the right Provost, who is the person that has a much more direct impact on our mission as a faculty.

After I sat down, a colleague a few rows behind me (who might still be upset with me so I will not mention his name) sprung up and started with, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” Which, of course, was exactly what he had to say as an outraged faculty member. We were both saying the lines we had to say.  I had to work hard to suppress a smile.

In the end, the no confidence motion won with a bare majority, which I figured was much better than overwhelming approval. Perhaps my speech did a little to blunt the negative vote.

We are in the same place now. The faculty needs to make known its displeasure about how the search is being conducted in a civil way (we’re not doing very well on civil right now) and then let the inevitable happen.  Then we need to start building bridges to our new president.  Cursing at the Board and John Thrasher will just invite retribution from our governor.  After all, UCF or USF would be perfectly happy to inherit our preeminence title if it is stripped from us.  And don’t fool yourselves into thinking it can’t happen.

Absolutely nobody should disagree with the assertion that Senator Thrasher has been devoted to FSU.  We might all wish that we lived in a state where the citizenry and their elected representatives recognized our university’s excellence and freely offered up their resources for our continued progress.  But the reality is quite different.  We have needed, and will continue to need, warriors on the ground in the Legislature.  Not everybody on the FSU faculty is happy with the battles Senator Thrasher has chosen to fight on our behalf, but no one should question his loyalty.

Two things made TK an effective president.  First, he respected our abilities and achievements as a faculty.  Second, he looked for solutions to difficult challenges on our own campus – from us and from the administration, which at the time was largely made up of individuals who had started at FSU as junior faculty members.

President Thrasher can be successful if he does the same things.  When we question Thrasher on June 11, we should focus on these questions:  Senator Thrasher, how do you perceive the FSU faculty?   When we come to you with proposals for pushing our university ahead, will they be taken seriously?  And before every question, we should say this:  Senator Thrasher, thank you for your service to our university.

What I’m doing right now is composing my first “Dear President Thrasher” letter about a student-level problem at our university that I think needs to be addressed promptly.  For the last several years, I’ve followed education debates in the Legislature, and I think Thrasher will be interested enough to act on it.  When he is selected by the Board of Trustees, I’ll wait a decent interval (about a day) and then send the letter.  I’m urging my colleagues to do the same – figure out how they’ll present their concerns in a “Dear President Thrasher” letter.

It’s time to move on.

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