Published: May 21, 2014 4:38 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A top Republican state senator has emerged as the leading - and right now the only - candidate to become the next president of Florida State University.

In an unusual move, a FSU search committee voted Wednesday to interview John Thrasher, who is also chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign, and then decide whether to offer him the job. FSU has been without a permanent president since Eric Barron left to take the same job at Penn State University.

The vote came after search committee members heard that FSU was having trouble attracting quality candidates because of the perception that Thrasher was going to get the job due to ongoing media reports.

Bill Funk, the search consultant hired by FSU, said that Thrasher's interest in the job was casting a "long shadow" over the process and he recommended that the search committee interview Thrasher now to determine if he was right for the job. The final determination will be up to the FSU board and the statewide Board of Governors.

But the vote generated opposition from students and faculty members who questioned Thrasher's lack of management experience and his nonacademic background.

Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is a former House speaker with long-standing ties to FSU. When he was speaker he helped get FSU a medical school. He is also an attorney and was a lobbyist between his stints in the House and Senate.

The FSU faculty union said in a statement that it had "lost confidence" in the search and some union members questioned Thrasher's willingness to work with them since he pushed bills to limit tenure for public school teachers.

Thrasher still hasn't officially applied for the job although he has been nominated for the position by several people, including former FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte. Funk, however, told the search committee that Thrasher told him he was interested in the position.

Ned Stuckey-French, an FSU English professor, complained to the search committee that Thrasher was trying to get the job by going through the "back door."

"He's hijacked this process and I think the committee needs to stand up to that," Stuckey-French said.

Florida universities have turned to politicians in the past. Frank Brogan became Florida Atlantic University president after he spent time as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

D'Alemberte himself spent time in the Legislature. But D'Alemberte had been dean of FSU's law school and Brogan had been a teacher, principal and school superintendent.

Several search committee members, including former politicians or those with political ties, defended the decision to interview Thrasher now.

Allan Bense, chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees and a former House speaker, said the school would need the Legislature's support if it wanted more money.

"Whether we like it or not politics is very important," Bense said.