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Republican Senator as Presidential Nominee: A Bite in the Sasse

Article by Nathan Thomas & Sofia Zarran

CREDIT: @redlibertymedia

 

If you haven’t heard, the University of Florida Presidential Search Committee unanimously recommended Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse as the sole finalist for consideration by the Board of Trustees the 13th President of UF. This was a shock for many students considering how many of Sasse’s political stances stand in sharp contrast to university values. Let’s get into who Ben Sasse is, and why his pending presidency strikes so much anger and fear into the hearts of gators; so much so, that his first appearance on campus was met not only with pressing questions but furious protesters.


To fill you in, Sasse is a Republican Politician with comments and political stances that have stuck out to several students on campus. Students are most upset with his anti-LGBT and homophobic statements. Regarding Obergefell v. Hodge, the court case granting same-sex couples the right to marry, he has stated, “Today's ruling is a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad.” Excerpted from his website is the following statement: “Governments cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.” It’s safe to say that although Sasse voted to impeach Trump, he isn’t the most progressive of Republican Senators.


On Monday morning, the University of Florida held three forums for Ben Sasse to introduce himself and answer questions.


In his opening remarks to over 50 faculty members, Sasse commented on the unique moment in history we find ourselves in, a moment of disruption where, as technology advances, job security fears rise.


His solution- teaching lifelong learning and inspiring innovation.


He described UF as “the most interesting university in the nation,” in the perfect position to take advantage of this “moment of disruption” in history.


Sasse argued that UF is a large enough institution to offer a broad range of opportunities to all of its students, while also possessing the “nimble, entrepreneurial spirit” that drives innovation and change.


As he finished his introductory remarks, he took a moment to address what he anticipated to be a recurring theme in the upcoming questions- his political record (he wasn’t wrong).


“I fully recognize that the responsibility of being a servant leader, and a team member, at an institution as complex as this is a celebratory role for the big and broader diverse set of initiatives that happen here, it's a very different calling than the calling I have right now and obviously I’ve had to take positions on policy and political issues.”

One of the most important issues for faculty was Dr. Sasse’s position on tenure. For those who didn’t know, he eliminated tenure at Midland College, where he was previously president. Midland had a student body of 1,600 for reference.


When asked if he planned to do the same at UF, he assured the faculty that he had no plans to do so. Midland College is a small teaching-centered college that benefited from the removal of tenure, he argued. The University of Florida stands in stark contrast as an enormous public research institution with 50,000 students and 6,000 faculty where tenure is critical to academic freedom.


Daniel Ferris, a biomedical engineering professor at UF asked the first question, asking Sasse to explain remarks he made in 2020 at a high school graduation ceremony over Zoom.



In his speech, he made disparaging comments about psychologists and psychology majors, following them with “that was not a joke.”


Sasse explained that he was asked to make light-hearted remarks at this ceremony because it was during the pandemic. He acknowledged that they fell flat and said that “comedy doesn't work over Zoom.” He then promised never to do stand-up.


Ferris left before the forum ended and was unavailable for comment.


After a brief break, Sasse re-entered the room to speak to students.


The first question offered Sasse the opportunity to address the primary concern of many of the protestors gathered outside, his stance on LGBTQ+ issues.


When asked about his stance on gay marriage, in a statement frighteningly similar to Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade, Sasse stated that Obergefell v. Hodges was “the law of the land,” and that there were no issues before the board on that topic, so it was outside the scope of his job.


Again, he was asked about his commitment to diversity and inclusion, and he spent the next two minutes talking about the lifelong learning and social lives of rats before asking Lauren Lemasters, President of the student body, to repeat the question. After hearing the question again, he talked about AI for some time before saying essentially that diversity is good.


It was around this time that the protestors gathered outside and made themselves known, chanting “Hey Ho, Ben Sasse has got to go.”

The chants increased in volume when the protestors started banging on the walls of the auditorium. It got to a point where Sasse had to stop answering questions to wait for the volume to die down.


Suddenly a lone protestor walked into the room, holding a sign aloft that read Kick Ben Sasse - read as “Kick Ben’s ass.”


She held the sign over her head for the remainder of the Q&A.


In an interview after the forum, Nigris Feleke, a junior-year journalism student expressed concerns about his positions on LGBTQ+ issues as well as saying that allowing a politician to hold the presidential seat set a dangerous precedent, representing the increasing influence of politics in education.


At this time the protestors had swarmed the auditorium chanting “Fuck Fascists, Fuck Desantis, and Fuck Ben Sasse.”


The organizer of the protest gathered on the stage where Sasse held the forum and presented the following five demands:

  1. That Ben Sasse declines the position of president.

  2. That the presidential nomination process is transparent and includes mechanisms to allow the UF community a say.

  3. That the board of trustees releases the names of all finalists.

  4. That the Florida State Legislature repeal SB520, which made the search process closed in the first place.

  5. That any individual selected as president demonstrates consistent advocacy and respect for all people regardless of race, sexuality, or gender.

Ella, who didn't want to give her last name, said that out-of-state, private universities are not an option for her and others in the student body, and if she's going to pay her tuition she wants a president who will represent her.


“If we pay his (the president's) salary, we should get a say in who represents us.”


Anthony Chung had similar concerns, citing Sasse’s conservative viewpoints, the lack of transparency by the Board of Trustees, and “his viewpoints don’t reflect what the university stands for and it feels like a political cash grab”


In the mind of many students and faculty, Sasse’s most recent calling as a politician overshadows his history as an academic. Of course, there are those here on campus who believe in Sasse, and that his job history as a politician and his political beliefs hold no bearing on how he would perform as President of this University. Ultimately, Sasse is a politician, doctorate or not. This raises many concerns as political issues begin to affect our students and faculty such as, most recently, when UF forbade faculty to testify against the state or the many ways the pandemic was handled by President Fuchs.


UF is a large institution with a diverse student body that holds principles of inclusion and respect for all in high regard. We are looking for someone to not only respect those views but defend and advance them. We can only hope that if Sasse were to be elected as our 13th president, he would conform to the culture at the university because we will certainly not conform to him.

 







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