University of Florida bans indoor protests ahead of president vote

by | Oct 25, 2022

 

  • The University of Florida will enforce a two-decade-old regulation barring indoor protests following a series of demonstrations over the recommendation of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse as the school’s 13th president
  • The regulation states that protests are permitted on campus so long as it does not impair the school’s ability to conduct operations
  • Student protests disrupted a meeting to allow staff and faculty to question Sasse ahead of his appointment, forcing it to be held in an online setting 
  • According to outgoing President Ken Fuchs, the regulation will be upheld for two weeks 

The University of Florida (UF) stated on Monday night that it would ban forms of protest inside campus buildings for two weeks, including during its Board of Trustees meeting next week to confirm Ben Sasse as president.

Upon UF’s announcement that Sasse, a GOP Senator from Nebraska, is the lone recommended candidate, students at the school formed demonstrations outside and inside campus community buildings. Students demanded that Sasse recuse himself from consideration due to his anti-LGBTQ stances and prior voting records.

Students and staff have also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency through the candidate search, as enabled by a new state law. 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 are unaware of any other candidates. The only information the university has 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.

“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,” said outgoing President Ken Fuchs. “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 shortened.”

In his statement, Fuchs pointed to a two-decade-old regulation declaring that faculty, students, or other personnel who intentionally act to impair, interfere with, or obstruct the functions of the University shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action by the University authorities.

The regulation further expounds that demonstrations are permitted to be held anywhere on UF’s campus, so long as it does not disrupt the normal operation of the school or infringe on the rights of other members of the community.

Fuchs additionally said that the regulation has not been enforced in recent years, as instances of protests remained relatively respectful and maintained order.

“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,” concluded Fuchs.

The UF Presidential Search Committee in early October publicized its recommendation of U.S. Senator Ben Sasse as the sole finalist to become the school’s 13th President.

The Search Committee pointed to Sasse’s experience in academia, serving for five years as president of Midlands University in Nebraska, as well as his “intellectual curiosity, belief in the power and potential of American universities, and track record of leadership spanning higher education, government, and the private sector.”

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 subsequently appoint an interim Senator in Sasse’s place until an election can be held.

Following the aforementioned protests, the UF Faculty Senate plans to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to potentially adopt a vote of no confidence for Sasse.

The group will hold an emergency meeting to debate, and if necessary, approve a motion of no confidence in the process of selecting the university’s 13th president.

However, Faculty Senate President told local reporters that she was unsure what an adopted vote of no confidence would mean for Sasse’s standing as the search committee’s recommendation.

On Thursday, Sasse appeared before UF staff and faculty for questioning, where he reaffirmed his commitment to providing all students with high-impact learning experiences.

“The last three to five to seven years feel like there’s kind of a trajectory here that is almost unrivaled in the country, and yet nobody here feels fat and happy. It feels like people are still incredibly entrepreneurial and ambitious about doing more great things for big broad populations,” said Sasse. “I think you all know you have an incredibly special institution, but sometimes it takes an outsider’s eyes to come and see and refresh what is incredibly special.”

 

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