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UF students and faculty voice their opposition before Sasse’s return to campus

Students protesting and holding signs in a crowded hallway
Jack Lemnus
A throng of students pack the hallway outside the room where Sen. Ben Sasse spoke Oct. 10.

Another protest is planned outside Emerson Alumni Hall during Sasse's interview.

Students and faculty at the University of Florida are preparing to again display their disapproval of the university’s sole presidential finalist — U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse R-Nebraska.

Opposition grew this week as the UF Faculty Senate was poised for an emergency meeting Thursday to consider a vote of no confidence in the selection process. This came as students were preparing another protest when Sasse returns to campus on Nov. 1 for a final interview with the UF Board of Trustees.

“When the faculty and students come together to say ‘no’ to Ben Sasse, that’s hard to ignore,” said Aron Ali-McClory, president of UF Young Democratic Socialists Association. “It’s very heartening to see the unity around this issue.” Ali-McClory was a co-organizer of the Oct. 10 demonstration when protestors flooded the forum where Sasse gave his first address to UF students.

A spokesman for UF President Kent Fuchs declined to comment about upcoming events.

When Sasse’s nomination was announced earlier this month, Fuchs praised the senator’s academic credentials and leadership background.

Next week’s planned protest, dubbed “Spook Sasse Out of Our Swamp,” is expected to take place outside Emerson Alumni Hall during the interview from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Student protestors hold signs and crowd the stairwell in Emerson Alumni Hall
Jack Lemnus
Student protestors crowd the stairwell in Emerson Alumni Hall on Oct. 10.

Fuchs warned students not to enter Emerson Alumni Hall again in an email distributed on Monday. He cited a two-decade-old policy stating that those who protest in university buildings are “subject to disciplinary action.”

“UF has made it abundantly clear that they will not be embarrassed like they were last time,” Ali-McClory said.

The upcoming protest will remain outside Emerson Alumni Hall and will not disrupt the proceedings, said UF College Democrats public relations director Lily Kalandjian, another protest organizer. “Student activism is a cornerstone of UF,” Kalandjian said,” It’s essentially fearmongering to punish us for voicing our opinions.”

Though student organizers said they plan to maintain the protests outside, others are already preparing students for the scenario in which protestors move indoors.

In a Reddit thread, a user listed tips for protestors who find themselves in a restricted building, including not carrying ID and securing their cellphones.

Fuchs said that the enforcement of the indoor-protest policy is to preserve the First Amendment rights of speakers like Sasse.

“UF supports the First Amendment right to free speech and embraces our university as a place where people are able and encouraged to exchange differing viewpoints,” Fuchs said in his campuswide email. But he added a warning: “To ensure that those rights are protected at upcoming events, the university will resume enforcement of a regulation on the books for at least two decades prohibiting protests inside campus buildings.”

Students accused the administration of being hypocritical.

t’s not just student activists who are displeased.

Last week, the UF Faculty Senate voted to hold Thursday’s emergency meeting to consider a no-confidence vote – a move that would readdress Sasse’s eligibility as the sole presidential pick.

The senate meeting is Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Reitz Union Chamber and will be livestreamed. UF Board of Trustees Chair Amanda Phalin has not responded to requests for comment from WUFT News.

“The next president should come already equipped to lead an institution of this caliber rather than aiming to learn on the job,” a preamble to the Senate’s no-confidence resolution said.

The resolution also addresses the Faculty Senate’s unhappiness in a selection process that produced only one finalist. Under a new state law that became effective in March, the presidential search committee did not disclose other candidates.

The board of trustees’ use of the law during their presidential search has sparked widespread criticism.

“The goal was to get to finalists, not announce who the person was as the only finalist,” the bill’s co-sponsor, State Sen. Jeff Brandes R-St. Petersburg, said to the Tampa Bay Times.

“It’s time for the university to move forward and restart the search process,” said Dr. Pasha Agoes, assistant instructional professor at the William and Grace Dial Center at UF. “Leadership needs to communicate the process even under SB 520.”

Ben Sasse sitting, looking off into the distance
Serra Sowers
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, during his UF visit on Oct. 10.

In response to the concealment of the other candidates, the United Faculty of Florida said it filed a public records request for the “full list of more than 700 applicants and the personal identifying information of the final pool of 12 candidates.” The union also asserted member concerns about Sasse’s qualifications.

“The faculty would have preferred an individual who is qualified for the position, not a political appointee,” wrote UFF-UF president, Professor Paul Ortiz in a statement.

UF faculty and staff have come together to refute the decision – but they’re not the only ones to find unity on this issue.

Last week, the UF student senate approved a resolution that rebuked the participation of Student Body President Lauren Lemasters in the unanimous vote for Sasse alongside the presidential search committee, which she is part of.

The resolution garnered support from both the Gator and Change parties to condemn Sasse’s previous controversial views, such as his expressed disappointment after Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage.

One of the resolution’s authors, Change Party Minority Leader Faith Corbett, said there is a disconnect between leadership and the will of the students. “These decisions are made behind students’ backs and on students’ behalf,” Corbett said, “and we just got sick of it.”

Given the secrecy of the presidential selection process granted under SB 520, the committee’s actions are not directly impacted by public opinion, Corbett said.

With the perceived likelihood that Sasse will become the 13th president of UF, many are preparing for that reality. If Sasse is selected, he must reassure students and faculty that he will respect and uphold their values, said Bryn Taylor, co-president of the Graduate Assistants United.

“He needs to meet with the stakeholders and outline exactly what he’s going to do to lead a top-five university,” Taylor said. “We don’t deserve anything less.”