Florida State University’s annual State of the University address is a time-honored tradition, one that President John Thrasher has adhered to for six years. On Dec. 2, he delivered his final address to a small, socially distanced group during a meeting of the Faculty Senate.
Thrasher, a former state legislator, was named FSU’s 15th president in 2014. He announced in September that he will retire in 2021. His contract expired in November, but he agreed to stay on until a replacement is hired. The FSU board of trustees is conducting a search for a new president, which could take up to six months.
In his address, Thrasher, 76, said he never imagined he would finish his term as president during a pandemic, but noted the university is strong, tenacious and resilient.
“It’s amazing what we have achieved and how far this university has come,” said Thrasher. “The past prepared us to respond to this pandemic. We are a family and when push comes to shove, we all pull in the same direction. We have all made sacrifices to safeguard the health of others.”
In the pandemic’s early days, the faculty changed from face-to-face classes to remote learning. In the fall, the school moved to a hybrid model and will do so again for the spring semester. However, between the start of the semester on Jan. 6 until Jan. 15, all classes will be taught remotely.
“Our faculty are some of the most creative, hardworking and dedicated people,” Thrasher said. “For them to convert 10,000 classes to remote in just two weeks was an amazing accomplishment. Because of you, we have been able to continue to deliver a world-class education to our 43,000 students.”
The faculty explored opening a lab to process Covid-19 tests, but the nationwide shortage of supplies hindered the program. Instead, the FSU Innovation Hub stepped in and used its 3-D printers to create plastic face shields from a design that was reviewed by the National Institutes of Health.
“When health care workers in our community faced a shortage of supplies, we developed a prototype for 3D printers to produce face shields,” Thrasher reported. “We made and delivered 2,400 of them.”
Thrasher said the country was also dealing with another pandemic, that of systemic racism. Prompted by the George Floyd murder, FSU created the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion in July to identify racial disparities on campus. The task force includes the Seminole Tribe’s Kyle Doney, who serves on the FSU Alumni Association’s National Board of Directors.
“We must continue to listen, learn, evolve and take action,” Thrasher said. “As an institute of higher education, we can be leaders in that. This is a place where every person can feel safe and have dignity.”
To address other national issues, FSU launched the Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan entity with the goal of teaching students about civic engagement, research and the role of politics in the lives of Americans. The nonpartisan organization was created by faculty, staff and political officials.
“It was established by the legislature last year to improve and encourage more civic involvement,” Thrasher said. “As we see more partisan politics across the nation, in times of change we are fortunate to have the steady influence of professors, some who have spent their entire careers here.”
For the second year in a row, FSU has been ranked in the top 20 public universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
“We have surpassed some of the finest universities in America,” Thrasher said. “It reflects our values and focuses on what we do best; help students succeed and prepare for 21st century careers. We have some of the best graduation rates in the country and 95% of freshmen return for a second year.”
Thrasher touted some of the university’s other accomplishments: graduate student enrollment is at an all-time high, the “Raise the Torch” campaign raised more than $1 billion to fund scholarships and additional professors, opened a Black student union, created the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship and raised a record $250 million in research funding.
“Every success we have had is a result of obstacles we have overcome,” he said. “I truly believe the state of the university is stronger than it has ever been. Our next president will guide our way forward, but we have established a strong foundation on which to build.”
Thrasher was the first in his family to graduate high school. He attended FSU and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and a law degree in 1972.
“I have given FSU my allegiance since I stepped foot here as a freshman in 1961,” Thrasher said. “It has been my distinct honor to serve as its 15th president.”