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John Thrasher. Image via Colin Hackley.

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John Thrasher takes on pandemic, campus carry, racism in his final State of the University address

COVID-19 is the latest challenge facing the university in his more than six years at the helm.

In his final State of the University address, retiring Florida State University President John Thrasher recalled the challenges the campus has faced and the growth undergone in his more than six years leading the university.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to deliver what will be, I promise, my last State of the University address,” Thrasher said, opening his speech to the Faculty Senate Wednesday.

Beginning with the shooting at Strozier Library that occurred days into his presidency, Thrasher remembered some of the hardships in that time, including three hurricanes and the loss of students and faculty members to gun violence and accidents. Those challenges have prepared the school for the COVID-19 pandemic, he told faculty members.

“When push comes to shove, we all put in and pull in the same direction,” Thrasher said. “Our students, our faculty, our staff, every single one of us, have had to make sacrifices one way or another to safeguard the health of others, and every single one of us has had to find new ways of doing things in order to ensure the success of this university.”

In the spring, students and faculty converted 10,000 classes from in-person to virtual learning, which the university president noted as an extraordinary accomplishment. The school currently hosts a hybrid model for students to learn face-to-face and remotely.

As of Nov. 21, FSU has seen 1,167 cases, including nine professors and 25 staff, according to a Department of Health report published Tuesday. Six students at the Panama City campus have also tested positive.

In October, Thrasher and his wife, Jean, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Amid the pandemic and economic recession, the school has placed a hiring freeze, and the president reiterated his commitment to protect current employees. When lawmakers convene up the hill from the university campus, Thrasher said the university will make the case for continued funding.

“Our legislators understand the importance of higher education for the state, and they know FSU in particular has a great return on their investment,” he said.

Senate President Wilton Simpson last month hinted to reporters that universities could receive a tuition hike for the first time in 10 years as Florida faces a $5.4 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Thrasher also reupped his repeated opposition to legislation allowing people with concealed weapon permits to carry firearms onto college campuses.

Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini on Monday filed legislation (HB 6001) of the sort for the third time in three years. The bill did not receive committee hearings in 2019 and 2020.

“I don’t want this to be the top of the story by the way, but I want to make the pledge to you one more time that I’ve made every year, that I will continue to fight any kind of campus carry legislation.” said Thrasher, a former Republican Florida House Speaker and State Senator. “We’ve all experienced enough heartache to know that more guns on campus do not make us safer.”

And the university president elevated civil injustice as another battle the nation is facing. As a diverse higher education institution, the university could be a leader against racism, he argued.

“America is reckoning with a different kind of epidemic,” Thrasher said. “The murder of George Floyd in May brought to our forefront in our country and certainly our state, and even on this campus, the systemic racism that I think touched our collective consciousness. We know we have a long way to go to achieve true racial equality and justice as a nation, as a community and even as a campus. We must continue to listen, to learn and to evolve and to take action.”

As soon as next week, a panel on the president’s task force on anti-racism, equity and inclusion could deliver its findings to his office.

Thrasher’s contract with FSU expires in November 2021, but he announced in September that the university would begin the search for his successor early and that he would step down upon his or her appointment.

“I’ve given Florida State my allegiance since I first stepped foot on this campus as a freshman in 1961, and I know all who have yet to come will love this university just as I have,” Thrasher said with his final words to the Faculty Senate. “It’s our university, and it’s been my distinct honor and greatest joy to serve as its 15th president. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

Written By

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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