UF Board of Trustees confirms Sasse as president, defends search process

by | Nov 1, 2022

 

  • The University of Florida Board of Trustees on Tuesday unanimously voted to recommend Nebraska GOP Senator Ben Sasse as the 13th president of the university 
  • Sasse now awaits ratification by the state Board of Governors in order to officially assume the role 
  • UF’s choice to recommend Sasse drew criticism from students and faculty over his prior political stances as well as the manner in which the candidate search was conducted 
  • Last week the university Faculty Senate adopted a resolution of no confidence against the presidential search 
  • Sasse states that he will be apolitical as president, refusing to attend political events or endorse election candidates 

The University of Florida (UF) Board of Trustees unanimously voted to recommend Nebraska GOP Senator Ben Sasse to the state Board of Governors to become the university’s 13th president.

Sasse now awaits ratification by the Board of Governors on Nov. 10, after which he will officially assume the role of university president.

During his interview, Sasse spoke of his vision for the school, which includes expanding UF Health to encompass more of northern Florida, improving campus infrastructure, and instilling a sense of technological literacy among students.

Sasse, who was re-elected to the senate in 2020, will resign from his position in Congress to assume the Presidential role. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts will appoint an interim Senator in Sasse’s place until an election can be held.

“I just want to say that I am incredibly gratified. There’s going to be a lot of diversity of opinion, which is not a bad thing … There’s a big hill of trust to climb to get to know this community,” said Sasse.

Sasse additionally responded to criticism regarding his political stances while in Congress, stating that he plans to be “politically celibate” during his time at the university.

“I find it super appealing to step back from politics for a time,” Sasse said. “I would have no activity in partisan politics in any way as I arrive at the University of Florida.”

Upon the early October announcement of Sasse’s selection, students staged protests, particularly over the Congressman’s historical anti-LGBTQ+ stances.

When asked if he would maintain ongoing campus inclusivity initiatives, Sasse said that his record would be indistinguishable to outgoing president Ken Fuchs and that he has “a lot of learning to do.”

Sasse again emphasized that he would not attend political events while affiliated with UF, take political contributions, or openly support candidates for office. He also added that he has not spoken to Gov. Ron DeSantis since 2016.

Last week, Faculty Senators voted by a 72-16 margin to adopt a resolution of no confidence in the search process undertaken to select Sasse. The resolution acknowledged that UF conducted the presidential search in accordance with a new state law that shielded candidates from the public.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, grants public records exemptions on information that identifies applicants for university administrative positions until the end of searches.

Because of the law, members of the public and faculty were unaware of any other candidates. The only information the university offered is that the search drew a wide range of candidates before a set of 12 were interviewed. Of the interviewed candidates, nine are sitting presidents at major research universities, though no names were provided.

Board of Trustees members today were outspoken in defense of the search process, stating that the candidate pool would suffer if names were made public.

Trustee Rahul Patel claimed that a considerable number of those interviewed or were met with sought anonymity unless they were declared the lone recommendation for the position.

“If we had a process that required more than one finalist to be publicly named or if names of prospects were publicly disclosed, simply put, we would not have gotten the most qualified applicants,” said Patel.

Chairman Mori Hosseini seconded the assertion, claiming that there was a need to conduct the search in secrecy. Hossaini referred to similarly-ranked public institutions like the University of California – Berkeley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who also named a lone finalist in their presidential searches.

“None of the top 12 people we interviewed would have stayed in the process [if named],” said Hosseini.

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