GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse was met by loud protests earlier this month during his first visit to the University of Florida as the lone finalist for the school’s presidency.
In an effort to crack down on future protests, current UF President Kent Fuchs on Monday issued a statement saying the university will resume enforcement of a regulation on the books for at least two decades, prohibiting protests inside campus buildings.
Fuchs said the policy will be enforced during the Nov. 1 UF Board of Trustees meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall, where Dr. Sasse’s candidacy will be considered. Students who violate the regulation may be subject to discipline under the Student Conduct of Code, he wrote.
“We have not enforced this policy in recent years because in the rare cases that protesters entered buildings, they were respectful of others and their rights to speak and to hear,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs said UF supports the First Amendment right to free speech and said the university is a place where people are able and encouraged to exchange differing viewpoints or express their feelings through peaceful protest. But, Fuchs added, some crossed a line on Oct. 10.
“During the Oct. 10 student forum at Emerson Alumni Hall for UF Presidential Candidate Sen. Ben Sasse, a large group of protestors entered the building, chanting loudly, banging their fists on windows, walls and furniture and making it difficult for audience members to hear Dr. Sasse’s responses,” Fuchs said. “When the forum ended and Dr. Sasse left to take a break, the protestors entered the room where he had been responding to questions. As a result, a planned staff forum in that space had to be moved online and was shortened. UF employees who traveled to the forum site did not get to hear Dr. Sasse speak in person, as many had planned to do.”
During those sessions, the Gainesville Sun reported about 1,000 people yelling “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ben Sasse has got to go” gathered and disrupted at least one of the meetings.
Sasse, a Republican in his second Senate term, has drawn criticism from some at the school in Gainesville for his stance on same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues. Others question his qualifications to run such a sprawling school with more than 50,000 students.
“I want to be clear that the university holds sacred the right to free speech, and I strongly encourage you to exercise it. It is a blessing that distinguishes our great country from many others around the world, and as many from those other countries will tell you, we must protect it vigorously,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs’s statement was released the same day the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) questioned the legality of nominating Sasse as the sole candidate for president. UFF said it submitted a public records request to UF demanding a full list of more than 700 applicants and the personal identifying information of the final pool of 12 candidates for the position, in addition to records of meetings that discussed the final group of applicants.
UFF was critical of a new Florida law that allows universities to conduct much of the process outside of the state’s open meetings and public records laws.
“I stood before committees and legislators earlier this year and told them to their faces what would happen if they passed a presidential searches exemption, but legislators on both sides of the aisle ignored me, their constituents and thousands of members of the higher education community. We didn’t want this law, but we without a doubt plan to enforce the shreds of transparency still left in this process,” said Andrew Gothard, UFF President.
Sasse, who would resign from the Senate to take the position, was recommended for the school’s presidency by a search committee. He still faces a vote by the school’s board of trustees and then must be confirmed by the state board of governors.
The Independent Alligator, the student-run publication, reported Saturday that UF’s Faculty Senate will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to potentially adopt a vote of no confidence for Sasse.