Sasse Visit to U of Florida Dogged by Protests

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tags: academic freedom, Ben Sasse, University of Florida

The University of Florida announced Friday that U.S. Senator Ben Sasse was the sole finalist in its search for a new president, a decision that elicited a wide range of reactions from faculty, students and staff. On Monday, the Republican from Nebraska traveled to Gainesville to see the campus and meet with members of the university community.

During his trip, Sasse repeatedly sought to draw a line between his career as a politician and what he sees as the “consensus-building” role of a university president.

“One of the things that’s so appealing about this moment and this opportunity for me … is the opportunity to step back from politics for a time,” Sasse, who is two years into his second six-year term, said at a forum hosted by the Faculty Senate. “I think most of this job is a very different thing than the political aspects of the job I’ve just had, and I want to assure you that I’m well aware of those differentiated roles.”

But if Monday was any indication, life as UF’s next president may not look as different from politicking as Sasse thinks. He wasn’t angling for votes, but he was engaging in a different kind of public image campaign; he spent the day meeting with various interest groups, trying to build trust, lay out his leadership vision and assuage fears among his new would-be constituents.

Sasse, who has written about his ideas for improving American higher education, said he was “smitten” with the University of Florida, where he said he sees great potential to model a positive transformation.

“I think that the vast majority of institutions of higher ed think that what we’re doing 20 and 30 years from now will be basically the same things we were doing 20 and 30 years ago, and I don’t really think that’s true. I think we’re going to have to innovate,” he said. “The last three to five to seven years here feel like there’s a kind of momentum and trajectory here that’s almost unrivaled in the country.”

At three back-to-back open forums—one with faculty, one with students and a third with administration and staff—Sasse, who will likely resign from his Senate seat to take the UF job if his hiring is approved, carefully addressed some of the many concerns raised over his candidacy.

Asked about his opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights during the faculty forum, Sasse said that his views concerning federal policy will have no effect on his role as president and that he is committed to making UF a “place of respect and inclusion for all Gators.”

Faculty members also asked Sasse about his decision to eliminate tenure at Midland University, where he served as president from 2009 to 2014. He defended his decision but said that the issue deserved different treatment according to the institution; at UF, he said, he would be a “zealous defender of tenure.”

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed