University of Florida Board of Trustees moves Sasse recommendation forward
With protesters outside, the Nebraska senator told the board that as UF president, he wouldn’t engage in politics.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WOWT) - The University of Florida Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse as the next UF president.
The decision authorizes the chairperson’s negotiations to begin regarding Sasse’s contract. Given the current president’s salary, consultants say he could make anywhere from $1.4-$1.6 million at the helm of the Florida university.
Sasse, 50, is currently making $174,000 as a U.S. Senator. He is expected to resign from the Senate in mid-December.
Since the announcement last month of Sasse as the sole candidate for UF’s 13th president, it’s seemed as though it was his job to lose.
There’s one more layer left to go before it’s all official, but that’s mostly just a formality: The decision will now be forwarded on to the Board of Governors for final approval.
Tuesday’s livestreamed meeting started around 8:30 a.m. CST and lasted more than four hours. The vote came at the end of a discussion following public comment.
Before the decision was formalized, the Nebraska native took questions from the board and heard public comments. The Republican senator faced questions from trustees about how he would keep partisan politics out of the job.
Sasse told the board Tuesday that he would remain neutral in politics and not participate in partisan politics, and that he hasn’t had any conversations with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about the UF post.
“I won’t speak at political events or assist candidates,” said Sasse, noting that he was aware of the controversy surrounding the university’s selection of him as the only finalist for its president.
One trustee questioned the Nebraska senator about his LGBTQ views.
“Will you commit to preserving these initiatives and policies that LGBTQ students and staff rely on daily?” Trustee Amanda Phalin asked Sasse.
He said he expected his record would be “fairly indistinguishable” from the current university president, Dr. W. Kent Fuchs, whom Sasse expects will act as an advisor to his successor.
“I don’t know all the policies and programs you mentioned, but my guess is Kent would be an advisor to me as well, and guess the trajectory looks the same,” Sasse said.
OUTCRY ON CAMPUS
Students are upset that only one finalist was selected for the university’s top position. Faculty have also questioned the process, voting “no confidence” in the selection process after hearing that Sasse was the only candidate named after being selected as the finalist.
Last month, protestors were so loud that their chants of “Hey hey ho ho — Ben Sasse has got to go!” could be heard inside. They even forced a third meeting with Sasse to move locations.
The raucous caused the school officials to announce afterwards that they would begin enforcing the university’s policy prohibiting indoor protests.
It worked. Tuesday, there were no such disruptions during the lengthy session.
Outside, police barricades kept protesters at bay on the UF campus during Sasse’s meeting with the Board of Trustees.
Twelve speakers addressed trustees on Tuesday. One did express support for hiring Sasse, but the majority of those speaking hammered his lack of experience or made it known they didn’t want a politician running their university.
“Our mascot is a gator, not an elephant.”
Current student at UF about Sen. Sasse: "I don't want any politician to be university president. I don't want Bernie Sanders. I don't want Donald Trump. You have a fantastic job. Why are you here?"— Brian Mastre WOWT (@brianmastrewowt) November 1, 2022
“We were promised two or three finalists and only got one.”
Several addressing the board said they were upset the trustees appeared “to be plowing forward, unfazed” by the opposition being vocalized by students and faculty.
“Do the right thing, or you’ll earn the hatred and opposition of the entire student body and faculty,” one said.
Another said that if Sasse is confirmed, “I hope he understands that he will have a huge hill of trust to climb.”
But the chairperson of the selection committee said the process they followed — selecting a single finalist — isn’t so uncommon anymore.
The @UF Selection Committee has taken heat for choosing a sole finalist, but the chair pointed out that's just the way it's done anymore & named these universities who had a sole finalist.— Brian Mastre WOWT (@brianmastrewowt) November 1, 2022
Michigan - 2022
Virginia - 2017
North Carolina - 2019
Berkley - 2017
UCLA - 2006
In the end, Sasse said he welcomed the discourse. Following the vote, Sasse told the board that the scrutiny he faced is “healthy” for everyone involved.
“I’m incredibly gratified by the engagement and grateful for the public commenters as well,” he said. “In a community this big, there are going to be a diversity of opinion. That’s a good, not a bad thing.”
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