The New Leaders of FSU and FAMU Look to the Future
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This year, John Thrasher and Elmira Mangum celebrate one year in their new roles — Thrasher as president of Florida State University and Mangum at the helm of Florida A&M University.
For each, it is their first time running a state university. And, for each, it has been a year of acclimating to a new life challenge while beginning to set an agenda for the future of their respective universities.
FSU and FAMU are at the center of some of the hottest new commercial, residential and cultural development in the region and play a big part in setting the vibe for the Tallahassee community. Both have embarked on major capital campaigns to improve their campuses, their university offerings and the student experience.
Thrasher and Mangum face different challenges in their new posts, but both are determined to see their schools succeed.
After a year in the job, Tallahassee Magazine sat down with each to learn a little more about them, the obstacles they have overcome and may still face, and their visions for the future of FSU and FAMU.
FSU President John Thrasher
Innovative Programs, Lofty Goals
FSU President John Thrasher Seeks to Create a Top-Tier University So Students Can ‘Pursue Hopes and Dreams’
By Linda Kleindienst
On his 10th day as president of Florida State University, John Thrasher received a call that would shake him to the core. Just after midnight on Nov. 20, 2014, former student Myron May had walked into Strozier Library and opened fire, shooting at seven and injuring two students and an employee before being gunned down by police.
It was “almost like an out-of-body experience. None of it made sense to me,” remembers Thrasher, who was in New York on a fundraising trip for the university. He was on a flight home six hours later.
Attending a campus vigil the evening of his return, the new president wasn’t sure what to tell the thousands of students who had gathered. But then his military training kicked in.
“When you have a fallen comrade, you pick up the pieces, you care about them, you pray for them and as a family you move on, you keep moving on,” he says.
In the following hours and days, Thrasher would show his mettle, calling for the “Seminole nation” to unite and reaching out to soothe a university community reeling with disbelief and grief. His confident demeanor, his resolution to return the campus to some sense of normalcy as quickly as possible, and his reassurances to students, their parents and staff are credited with quickly bringing a sense of calm back to the campus. Students and faculty who only weeks earlier had criticized his lack of academic credentials for the job were praising the new president for his leadership skills honed in the military and in the world of Florida business and politics.
“When he hung up that phone, he picked up his cell phone and called Delta,” remembers Thrasher’s wife, Jean, of that tragic morning. “He asked for an agent, calmly told her who he was and why he needed to urgently get home. She got us the first flight out of New York. By 10 a.m. he was in his office, getting more information and ready for a press conference. I’d describe him as a man of steel. He knows how to handle a crisis and how to carry through.”