More than a dozen lawmakers, school officials and associations have sent letters of recommendation supporting Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for Florida State University President.
Corcoran applied for the job earlier this week and is one of nearly two dozen applicants seeking the position currently held by John Thrasher, who announced his retirement in September.
Letters obtained by Florida Politics show Corcoran has broad support among those he served alongside during his time in the Legislature, which culminated in a term as House Speaker for the 2017 and 2018 Legislative Sessions. He has also garnered support from alumni, school superintendents and others.
Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters nominated Corcoran for the job, likening him to a “young John Thrasher.”
“We need someone to replace President Thrasher, who knows the legislative process and knows all the members of the Legislature and other prominent people in government. No time for introductions. We need someone to hit the ground running on day one for FSU,” wrote Gruters, who was an FSU Trustee when Thrasher was selected as President.
His supporters in the Legislature also include House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.
“In 2018, Speaker Corcoran showed the breadth of his inclusiveness and the courage of his convictions when in the wake of the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School he listened to the pained cries of anguished parents and went on a mission to make our schools safer than ever before,” Sprowls wrote.
“I saw his sense of justice on display when we passed a resolution asking for the pardoning of the Groveland Four, and his sense of compassion when we held hearings and passed a resolution to honor the children who were abused at the Dozier School for boys. Richard lives by the motto that it is never too late to do the right thing. That is something every student could learn from.”
Notably, two letters came from Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Janet Cruz and Shevrin Jones, both of whom served in the House during Corcoran’s term as Speaker.
“Some may ask, why would a person like me from the opposite party be so enthused to write a letter of support for a person from the opposing side, and it’s simple — good leadership deserves to be acknowledged, and I cannot help but to lift up the amazing leadership of Richard Corcoran,” Jones wrote. “Richard has the leadership that I believe changes lives, moves agendas, and moves institutions like Florida State University, forward.”
Cruz, who was House Democratic Leader during Corcoran’s speakership, said she and Corcoran were able to work “in direct collaboration to provide equitable solutions for all Floridians while working to address our state’s most pressing issues.”
“Richard is a leader who is always accessible, maintaining an open door policy even in moments of contentious disagreement. This exact character trait oftentimes resulted in the very compromise that became a theme of his tenure as Speaker of the House,” she said.
Corcoran backers also include key alumni such as Carlos Trujillo, a former Ambassador and state Representative, as well as lobbyists Derek Whitis of Whitis Consulting and Paul Mitchell of The Southern Group.
Whitis, a major FSU donor and former member of the Seminole Boosters Board, stressed Corcoran’s “ability to work collaboratively with others to achieve remarkable outcomes.”
“I wish I could say that Richard always agreed with my clients’ desires, but that isn’t true. But what I can say is that Richard was always accessible, always willing to listen, always straightforward, and always gracious,” he wrote. “And there is one more ‘always’ I would like to stress. Richard was always a team builder. He had the unique ability to bring individuals together to accomplish something meaningful.”
Other supporters best know Corcoran as Education Commissioner, a job he has held since shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis was elected in 2018.
“As the Commissioner of Education, Richard has been an advocate for positive change driven by his steadfast belief that we can close achievement gaps by providing access, opportunity and choice to high-quality programs and instruction. Under his leadership, the Florida Department of Education has rapidly transformed to a department that serves districts,” said Michael A. Grego, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent and current Florida Association of District School Superintendents president.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho wrote that Corcoran’s “experience at the helm of Florida’s House is evidence of his prowess in the legislative arena, but it is his role as Commissioner of Education that best demonstrates his dynamism, judgement, innovation, and capacity to collaborate.”
The North East Florida Educational Consortium, an association of 13 of the state’s smaller school districts, lauded Corcoran’s leadership style and keen awareness of each district’s needs.
“He has exhibited care and concern for our needs and requests and has met with us on several occasions to discuss the issues most pressing to us as leaders. In doing so, he created an environment of mutual respect through transparency, honest communication, and ethical leadership,” NEFEC executive director Patrick Wnek wrote.
Perhaps the most surprising letter came from former Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram. FEA, the state’s largest teacher union, often butted heads with Corcoran, who is a staunch supporter of school choice policies. Ingram acknowledged as much in his recommendation.
“It might seem odd that a union leader and classroom educator, who has differed at times over policy with Commissioner Richard Corcoran, would submit a letter of recommendation on his behalf,” he wrote. “However, I do so without hesitation because I have come to know firsthand his skillset and ability to bring key stakeholders together to meet our educational mission over the past two and a half years.”
Corcoran is considered a non-traditional applicant for university President because of his career in politics and his lack of a terminal degree — he holds a law degree from Regent University. However, the same criticisms were levied at Thrasher before he was named FSU President, and there is precedent beyond Thrasher.
Former FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte and former University of Florida presidents Stephen C. O’Connell and Marshall Criser II were also lawyers without doctoral degrees. And D’Alemberte, former University of South Florida President Betty Castor and former FSU President TK Wetherell were former lawmakers.
Thrasher’s tenure has been largely positive, with state funding and donations to the university on the rise. Thrasher, a former House Speaker and former state Senator, came into the job with first-hand knowledge of education budget and funding processes as well as personal connections to the lawmakers who crafted the education budget.
Corcoran has the same assets and his application and the recommendation letters indicate he’s following the same playbook that landed Thrasher the job. He also has some key supporters in higher education.
Polk State College President Angela M. Garcia praised Corcoran’s “enthusiasm and passion for students” and cited his work to steer workforce training funds to State College System institutions, while Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega wrote of his “demonstrated ability to build partnerships with key stakeholders” and expressed confidence that his relationships will continue FSU’s momentum and bring the university to new heights.
In a statement after his nomination, Corcoran said, “I am honored that the advisory committee has decided to move my application into the interview phase where we can discuss the diversity of my support — from union leaders and superintendents of schools, to both prominent Democrats and Republicans. I am also looking forward to discussing my vision for Florida State University and expanding on issues, such as securing new funding and evaluating gaps in faculty and administrator salaries, while continuing to focus on academic excellence and growth for the students.
“In my nomination letter I was referred to as a ‘young John Thrasher,’ a comparison that is an honor and a legacy that I would be proud to carry forward for FSU.”
Corcoran is one of several applicants moving onto the first interview phase for the job, many of whom are highly credentialed. The complete list of applicants, in addition to Corcoran, includes:
— Robert Blouin, University of North Carolina Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost.
— David Coburn, vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at FSU.
— Randall Hanna, dean and CEO of Florida State University, Panama City campus; dean, College of Applied Sciences.
— Richard McCullough, vice provost for research, Harvard University.
— Giovanni Piedimonte, M.D., vice president for research at Tulane University, and professor of pediatrics, biochemistry & molecular biology, Tulane School of Medicine.
— Sean Pittman, CEO of Pittman Law Group.
— Mary Ann Rankin, Ph.D., senior vice president and provost, University of Maryland, College Park.
— Michael Young, president emeritus and professor of law and professor of public policy, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.