Senator Ben Sasse approved as next UF president by board

Senator Ben Sasse approved as next UF president by board

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Senator Ben Sasse was unanimously chosen on Tuesday to be the next president of the University of Florida by the university’s board of trustees, despite tough questions from some students and professors about his graduate credentials and his political opinions.

The decision, which is subject to the approval of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida, was made after nearly four hours of Q&A that touched on everything from artificial intelligence to the Gator mascot to Chinese politics.

Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, was named the lone runner-up for the UF post last month. If he accepts the post, he is expected to resign from the Senate in December. If Sasse ultimately accepts the position, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) will appoint a successor under state law.

Sasse would take office in early 2023, the university said. The directors also agreed to negotiate a total compensation package with Sasse of up to $1.6 million.

UF trustees voiced support for Sasse’s vision to harness technological disruption to make Florida’s flagship university more nimble and relevant, promising big changes even as he reassured faculty members that he supported academic freedom and the tenure system.

“I am grateful for the Board’s unanimous vote and endorsement of our shared vision to make the University of Florida a world-changing institution and a pioneer in higher education,” Sasse said in a statement. .

Sasse will succeed Kent Fuchs, who announced earlier this year that he would step down as chairman once a new leader is appointed.

On Tuesday, protesters gathered outside the meeting – they weren’t allowed in – some were wearing Sasse masks and chanting, according to the campus newspaper, the Florida Independent Alligator.

In recent months, some faculty members have complained of excessive political influence on the public university, accusing Tallahassee Republicans, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, of threatening academic freedom.

Last week, the university’s faculty senate passed a no-confidence resolution, criticizing what they called a flawed selection process, and the United Florida Faculty’s UF chapter passed a resolution expressing deep concern about the choice of Sasse as a finalist. Some professors also said they wished they had seen more college degrees, such as academic writing or graduate student advising experience.

University of Florida faculty ‘not confident’ in Sasse selection

On Tuesday, Sasse pledged to abandon partisan politics if chosen as college president.

Senator Ben Sasse’s bid for U-Florida president sparks protests

Amanda Phalin, chair of the faculty senate and trustee, pressed Sasse during the interview with the board on several issues raised by faculty, including concerns from LGBTQ members about whether he would be inclusive and would continue the efforts that Fuchs had made on campus, such as increasing bathrooms for all genders and providing some domestic partner benefits. Sasse said he didn’t know all the details of what Fuchs did but expected the trajectory to be the same.

Phalin asked if anyone from the governor’s office walked him through the research process, and Sasse said he had no conversations about it and hadn’t spoken with DeSantis in years. , not since he was a member of Congress.

Sasse received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in history from Yale University. He served as president of Midland University, a private Lutheran institution in Nebraska with about 1,700 students, before being elected to the Senate in 2014.

An administrator asked Sasse to compare university operations to those at Midland, asking him what had prepared him to lead an institution as large and complex as UF. Sasse responded that over decades of professional experience, including as a board member and senior executive, he believed in building a great team of people.

Prior to his time in the Senate, Sasse worked with several Christian organizations and federal agencies, including the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Another board member asked about partnerships between tech companies and universities. Sasse acknowledged that change is often unsettling and frightening. But he said UF “should shout, ‘We’re open for business! ”

Even as he promoted the need for innovation and responsiveness to economic and culturally disruptive technology, Sasse also spoke of his appreciation for the liberal arts, saying, “I’m a historian – I love books and literature.”

In a statement, Mori Hosseini, chairman of the board, said: “Dr. Sasse is ready to lead UF through a dynamic period in our history, and he has the right combination of experience and innovative thinking that will propel UF to the next level of leadership nationally and globally.

Sasse told board members who interviewed him that he was a romantic when it came to the importance of education and the university’s mission. “The quest for knowledge and truth is the endeavor of a lifetime,” he said.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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