Faculty members said the vote was against a “flawed process” that led to Sasse being the sole finalist for the job. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-led state legislature changed the way college and university presidents are chosen this year, making the process more secretive.
This position is one of the highest paying public contracts in Florida; current UF President Kent Fuchs earns more than $1.4 million annually.
Some on the Gainesville campus strongly support Sasse. Amanda Phalin, chair of the faculty senate, said this week that she believes Sasse will be a transformational leader at UF. “I’m excited about what it has to offer,” said Phalin, who also serves on the university’s board of trustees. “I think he’s the right choice.
But at a university where political influence and academic freedom have been hotly debated in recent years, Sasse’s sudden emergence as the only finalist prompted resolutions condemning the choice — and an emergency meeting of faculty leaders.
“The next president should come already equipped to lead an institution of this caliber, rather than trying to learn on the job,” the faculty senate resolution read. “Anything less will lead to a lack of faith in leadership. The thirteenth presidential search process, conducted in accordance with the updated Florida State Bill 520, undermined the confidence and trust of the University of Florida Faculty Senate in selecting the sole finalist, Dr. Ben Sass.’
The law, passed this spring, exempts Florida university presidential candidates from some of the state’s open records requirements.
This prevented UF faculty members from learning about other candidates, the faculty senate resolution noted, and “members were informed that several well-qualified candidates who are college leaders were unwilling to be named as finalists due to the 21-day public notice.” requirement.”
Some faculty leaders warmly endorsed Sasse at a faculty senate meeting last week, saying he won them over with his vision for UF and responses to their concerns about the politicization of the university. Several faculty members expressed their support Thursday.
“I still look at him as an accidental politician,” said David Bloom, chair of the department of molecular genetics and microbiology, who served on the search committee.
Bloom added, “I don’t think his Republican affiliation will hurt dealing with the state legislature.”
However, other faculty members remained skeptical. On Wednesday, the UF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida passed a resolution expressing deep concern over the selection of Sasse as a finalist. “We applaud the UF student government for its vote condemning both the search process and its outcome,” they said in a statement, urging faculty senators to support a vote of no confidence in the presidential search process at Thursday’s meeting.
Paul Ortiz, a history professor who is president of the union on campus, said students and faculty members have worked hard to be at UF. “And then they have a process that basically reverses all of that and says, ‘We’re only going to allow this person to apply to be president because he’s a sitting U.S. senator.’ It’s an insult. And that’s how the faculty and many students reacted to it.”
“You know, we have nothing against this individual,” Ortiz said of Sasso, a Nebraska Republican. “I’m told he’s a major force inside the Beltway. It’s alright. That’s great. But he doesn’t have any academic credentials, and that’s the thing that worries him.’
Sasse earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a doctorate in history from Yale University, and served as president of Midland University in Nebraska before his election to the Senate.
But some faculty said he was not qualified to lead a major research university. For example, they said they would like to see more evidence of academic writing and graduate student advising experience.
The Independent Alligator, the campus newspaper, wrote in an editorial: “For a university that has come under fire in recent years for being a political pawn of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the choice is a bad look at best.”
Some teachers and students objected to Sasse’s 2015 remarks against the Supreme Court’s ruling in Oberfell v. Hodges that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and questioned whether it can support all people on a public university campus.
When Sasse visited the campus earlier this month, a crowd of protesters gathered, students yelled and chanted, “banging their fists on windows, walls and furniture, making it difficult for audience members to hear Dr. Sasse’s answers,” current President Fuchs wrote. message to the campus community earlier this week.
Fuchs said he was protecting everyone’s right to speak and be heard by restoring the rule, which he acknowledged had not been enforced in recent years: “To ensure that these rights are protected in future events,” he wrote, “the university will be reinstated. enforcing an ordinance on the books for at least two decades that prohibits protests in campus buildings.