It’s no dirty secret that the ivory tower of academia in higher education has found itself increasingly entangled in the creeping vines of politics. But perhaps it has never been as indiscreet as Florida State University’s Board of Trustees’ decision to name powerful conservative state Sen. John Thrasher as the new president of the university.
Thrasher is currently part of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign and has received campaign contributions from many of FSU’s BOT for his own campaign. He has been lauded by supporters as someone with enough political clout to help FSU lobby for its fundraising goals. These goals are becoming increasingly important as state universities, attempting to cultivate quality centers for research and learning, elbow each other out for a shrinking pot of resources.
But his critics — namely faculty, students and those that are essentially the beginning and end of what should be higher education — say he is unqualified to serve as president of such an institution. While the career politician received his bachelor’s in business and a law degree from FSU, that is essentially the extent of his experience in the classroom. He has never taught or worked in a university.
Indeed, cash-strapped times call for innovative ways to bring in revenue and many public universities have found themselves engaged in activities and “partnerships” with non-academic, purely profit-driven entities that might seem nefarious to an academic purist. But the president of a university serves as much more than simply chief hobnobber.
While it is important for a president to have connections for leverage, the president of a university is one who should value what the institution embodies at its core.
But perhaps FSU, one of Florida’s oldest and most “pre-eminent” institutions, seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis as it faces the dire straits of today’s economic climate. Moreover, this does not seem to be the first time the university has found itself compromising morals for money. In 2011, the university came under severe scrutiny regarding the role that some of its wealthiest patrons, specifically the billionaire Koch brothers, played in hiring decisions.
As the angry students and faculty of FSU have said, their university is “not for sale.”
Though the entire institution of public higher education should not be for sale until the next funding model du jour can be proven sustainable, it seems as though we will see more of the traditional values associated with higher education auctioned away.
While indeed it is true that the entire field of higher education may benefit from a dose of rooted practicality here and there, is it too lofty an ideal to think that somewhere amid the entrails of cold politicking and the struggle for funds, the heart of academia still beats for the simple love of education and greater discourse?
Divya Kumar is a senior majoring in mass communications and economics.