University of Florida approves Sasse as new president amid student protests

University of Florida approves Sasse as new president amid student protests


“One of the things that’s sad about our moment is that we often reduce whole humans to specific views on supercharged policy issues at a given moment,” Sasse said on Tuesday. “Humans are a lot more complex and interesting than that.”

“I think neighborliness is a lot more interesting than politics.”

Choosing a politician as president triggered sizable pushback from students who argued that Sasse lacked experience to run the university. From outside his interview, students chanted “Get Sasse out of our swamp” and held up signs saying “Sasse is ass” and “Get your bulls— politics out of my education.” As a senator, Sasse was known as a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump and was one of seven senators to vote to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial after the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.

Sasse, who earned a PhD from Yale University and a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University, previously served as president of Midland University, a private Lutheran university in Fremont, Neb. Midland enrolls approximately 1,600 students while UF by comparison enrolls more than 60,000 total as a major research university.

The Nebraska senator’s selection was controversial from the moment it was announced on Oct. 7, in part because the search was conducted under a new state law shielding presidential applicants from the public eye. The choice spurred the UF’s faculty union last week to pass a vote of no confidence in opposition of the presidential search.

Although the university recruited a “dozen highly qualified diverse” candidates, including nine sitting presidents at major research universities, Sasse was the only finalist announced for the job.

University trustees defended the search on Tuesday, reiterating that the school brought in a solid group of candidates, even though their identities are unknown.

“The bottom line is if we had run a process that required more than one finalist to be publicly disclosed, none of the top 12 people we interviewed would have stayed,” said trustee Chair Mori Hosseini. “It’s that simple.”

During an interview that lasted roughly four hours, Sasse told university trustees that it would be “super appealing” to step back from politics and return to higher education. He pledged to have “no activity” in politics, from speaking engagements to campaign donations and being a surrogate.

Sasse denied having any contact with the DeSantis administration during the presidential search, although it was previously reported by POLITICO that Sasse’s sherpa through the university search process was DeSantis’ chief of staff James Uthmeier, who was put in contact with Sasse several months ago after he quietly expressed interest in becoming the school’s president.

“My shepherding through this process has been from people around this table who persuaded me to keep listening when I told you I wasn’t a candidate and didn’t plan to become one,” Sasse said Tuesday. “I guess my shepherds are in this room.”

University trustees expressed confidence Tuesday that Sasse can advance the university as a “transformative” leader. They praised his experience in higher education and as a public servant, saying he has a “bold vision” for higher education and a “once in a generation” leadership style.

Sasse said he chose the flagship Florida school after being approached for several presidential jobs in the past because it is the “most interesting” university in the country.

“In a community this big, there’s going to be a lot of diversity of opinion, and that is a good, not a bad thing,” Sasse said after accepting the job. “There’s a hill of trust to climb to get to know a big and broad community. I’ve been welcomed in so many special ways.”

Sasse is expected to be paid somewhere between $1.4 million — the current president’s salary — and $1.6 million. His appointment is subject to approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors at a meeting next week.

Sasse will replace outgoing President Kent Fuchs, who announced in January his intentions to step down after the fall 2022 semester. Under the leadership of Fuchs, one of the state’s top higher education officials, the institution reached the number five spot on national rankings for public universities and drew in more than $3 billion in fundraising.

But the school also had been embroiled in controversy tied to the DeSantis administration when professors claimed the university violated their First Amendment rights and academic freedoms by blocking them from testifying as experts in a lawsuit challenging a voter rights bill backed by the Republican governor.

The school’s accreditation agency launched a probe into possible violations, yet ultimately determined UF policies were “efficient and compliant.”



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