FSU poised for change at the top

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TALLAHASSEE (The News Service of Florida) — The Florida State University Board of Trustees on Thursday approved a five-year contract for incoming President Richard McCullough, as retiring President John Thrasher reflected on his nearly seven years at the helm..

McCullough, who was selected last month to lead the university, would earn an annual base salary of $700,000. McCullough’s appointment needs final approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors, which will consider it during a meeting Wednesday.

The contract terms would require that 25 percent of McCullough’s salary go to retirement and deferred compensation. The terms also would provide for an annual performance bonus of up to $150,000, and McCullough could receive a retention payment of $500,000 after completing the five years of the contract.

The contract would allow the university to terminate his employment with or without cause, and the university would have to pay McCullough the full contract if it were ended without cause.

Upon moving to Tallahassee, McCullough, who is currently vice provost for research at Harvard University, would be required to live in the university-owned president’s house and would be appointed as a full professor in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.

McCullough was not present at Thursday’s meeting of the trustees. In his letter of interest for the job, McCullough billed himself as “a highly experienced leader that knows how to build a high-quality faculty, create important and competitive education and research programs and achieve significant jumps in reputation and ranking.”

If his appointment gets final approval from the Board of Governors, McCullough will be working next fiscal year with a record $2.17 billion budget that the Board of Trustees signed off on Thursday. The spending plan represents a $317 million increase over the current year, thanks in part to federal stimulus funds.

Thursday’s meeting was Thrasher’s last as president of the university.

“It was a thorough, open and transparent process that all of you can be proud of,” Thrasher said of the search for his successor, who he added “will love this job as much as I have.”

In opening remarks, Thrasher also discussed the university’s plan to resume normal operations after navigating COVID-19 safety protocols for more than a year.

“We’re ready to get started again and get back to normal. I think everybody feels the same way, and we’re excited about that. I know our new president feels the same way also, we’ve had some discussion about that,” Thrasher told the board.

Thrasher, a former state House speaker and state senator, also looked back on some of the accomplishments and challenges from his tenure.

Thrasher mentioned that the last two defendants charged in the 2017 death of FSU student Andrew Coffey recently pleaded guilty to felony hazing, marking the final chapter of a saga that upended Greek life and rocked the campus.

Coffey, who was 20 years old, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus hazing ritual. Thrasher spoke of the “tough decisions back then” to temporarily suspend all Greek life in the wake of Coffey’s death.

“I think together with the state attorney’s office and the people across campus and in this community we’ve taken a stand against hazing and I believe helped change the culture of Greek life,” Thrasher said. “And I believe (we) even impacted some states across the nation in respect to what we did.”

Thrasher also highlighted his convening of the President’s Task Force on Anti-racism, Equity and Inclusion within the university in August 2020. The task force recently submitted more than 25 recommendations to Thrasher about on-campus issues.

“I have provided President McCullough with all of the … reports from that board,” Thrasher said. “I hope he will look at those, and I know there will be some implementation issues to deal with when he gets here.”

Thrasher will preside July 30 over two more commencement ceremonies for students graduating during the summer semester. Thrasher’s contract will end Aug. 15, and McCullough’s contract would begin Aug. 16.

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