TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State University is hiring powerful state Sen. John Thrasher as its next president despite significant opposition from people on campus who contended he isn’t qualified for the post.

The FSU board voted 11-2 Tuesday to hire Thrasher over three academics, pushing aside objections from FSU faculty who cited his lack of education credentials. Thrasher, a former state House speaker and chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, also drew criticism after he sidestepped questions during a campus forum about climate change and evolution.

But Thrasher’s supporters say his political connections and clout could help FSU in its quest to move into the ranks of the nation’s top research universities. Thrasher also vowed that he would help the university get more money to boost faculty salaries.

Student protesters began chanting “FSU is not for sale” after the vote.

The 70-year-old Thrasher graduated from FSU in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in business and later received his law degree from the school. In the Legislature, he helped win approval for the university’s medical school, which opened in 2001. Thrasher also spent four years on FSU’s board. He has never taught, however, working as a lawyer and a lobbyist in addition to politics.

During his final interview, Thrasher maintained he would reach out to his opponents if selected. He also said he shared the same goal as others at helping improve FSU.

Thrasher is stepping in at a time when the university has come under fire for its handling of star quarterback Jamesis Winston. Winston has been involved in a series of off-field incidents in recent months, and he was suspended from last week’s game for making “offensive and vulgar” comments about female anatomy on campus. The university initially only suspended him for a half, but then late Friday switched it to an entire game.

The selection still has to be ratified in November by the Board of Governors. But the statewide panel has never refused to endorse the selection made by a local university board.

The other candidates include former West Virginia University Provost Michele Wheatly, Colorado State University System Chancellor Michael Martin and University of Alabama at Birmingham Vice President Richard Marchase.

FSU has been without a president since Eric Barron left in April to take the top post at Penn State University. The process to hire a successor has been bumpy ever since Thrasher emerged as a candidate. Initially FSU planned to interview him ahead of all candidates but that created a backlash and ultimately led to the search being delayed.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press this past summer showed that the consultant first hired to help FSU told the head of the search committee that the university was trying to “concoct a competitive process” that would end with Thrasher’s hiring. Those same emails showed Thrasher reached out directly to top FSU officials about the job and that the former campaign manager of Scott gave advice about the search.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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