GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida Board of Trustees on Tuesday voted unanimously to select U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as the school’s 13th president.
His selection still needs approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors on Nov. 9.
The UF Board of Trustees met Tuesday to conduct an interview with Sasse. The meeting took place after UF’s Faculty Senate on Thursday passed a resolution saying members have no confidence in a presidential search process that led to Sasse being the sole finalist to lead the university.
A search committee on Oct. 6 named Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, as the only finalist to replace outgoing President Kent Fuchs.
The University of Florida Board of Trustees voted unanimously today to select U.S. Sen. Dr. Ben Sasse as UF’s president-elect. pic.twitter.com/7XRIl28u1X— FLORIDA (@UF) November 1, 2022
Outside the meeting, there was a vocal protest.
“I think his values are antithetical to the values of the university and its core mission,” said UF student Aron Ali-McClory.
UF student Ava Kaplan said, “I think the process that got Ben Sasse to this point is a sham. It doesn’t include the voices of the community that he’s supposed to serve.”
Those concerns were some of the central lines of questioning for Sasse — from LGBTQ issues to his views on China and whether that should be of concern to Chinese students.
Sasse said that he will honor the previous president’s policies on LGBTQ issues and that his criticisms of China are over the political leadership and human rights abuses — not the country or its people.
And with Sasse’s political standing in the Republican Party, there were questions about whether he got special treatment from Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He was asked if anyone in the governor’s office in any way contacted him or guided him through the UF presidential search process.
“No. I did not think I have had conversation or been in a room with Gov. DeSantis since he was a congressman in 2016. I’ve had zero conversations with him about this and have been shepherded through this process by no one,” Sasse responded.
As far as politics go, Sasse said, he plans to take what he calls a “period of political celibacy” while coming into the new role.
The UF Faculty Senate’s no-confidence vote pertained to the search process and not Sasse as a candidate, although numerous faculty members on Thursday expressed reservations about Sasse potentially getting the job. Many also voiced concerns about the search committee recommending only one candidate.
The United Faculty of Florida union announced last week that it had filed a public records request to try to get information about a group of reportedly undisclosed finalists. Sasse’s selection came after a new state law allowed the search to be conducted in private. The law, approved by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis this year, created a public records exemption for information that could identify applicants until near the end of searches, when information about finalists can be released. Information about other applicants remains shielded under the law.
Also last week, Fuchs announced that the school will prohibit protests inside campus buildings ahead of Sasse’s interview with the trustees. The move came after Sasse’s meetings this month with students and staff were interrupted by student protesters, at least in part because of Sasse’s positions on LGBTQ issues.
Others question his qualifications to run such a sprawling school with more than 50,000 students. Sasse formerly served as president of Midland University, a small private school in Nebraska.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Trustees issued a statement saying that the recent no-confidence vote would not impact their final vote on Sasse.