- The University of Florida has formally selected U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as its next president, setting aside concerns that the appointment of a conservative Republican senator from Nebraska would politicize the state’s flagship higher education institution.
The university’s board of trustees voted unanimously to appoint Sasse, 50, as president. The outcome of the vote was never in doubt: There were no alternative candidates for the job. Sasse said he was resigning from the Senate by year’s end.
One trustee, Richard Cole, said Sasse calmed his concerns about hiring a politician. “I was very hesitant to think it was appropriate for us to bring in a politician,” Cole said. “You’ve overcome that for me.”
Sasse still faces formal approval by the board of governors, the panel that oversees all public universities in Florida. That is widely expected to happen.
Under questioning by trustees, Sasse said political issues that have been culturally divisive among progressives and conservatives “have almost nothing to do with most of the riddles we need to navigate.” He added: “Students aren’t machines and universities are not assembly lines,” he said.
Sasse pledged not to be involved in partisan political activities as university president and said he would urge Florida’s powerful Republican party not to micromanage the school. He called it “political celibacy,” after a similar pledge by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, who formerly had been Indiana’s governor.
“It would be my plan, as I arrived here, to take a similar pledge to you all of political celibacy,” he said.
He described the university’s changing under his presidency — “higher education is going to need to change a lot” — to accommodate what he described as technological and economic disruptions and changing population demographics across Florida. He said some changes would be uncomfortable, and the university should serve not just young adults but students as old as 35.
Sasse said professors delivering lectures in classrooms isn’t the only way to teach college students and endorsed what he called a “broader suite of experiential learning opportunities,” including internships, more laboratory settings and other hands-on learning experiences.
Sasse lamented what he said is a cancel culture prevalent on many campuses.“Where is the room to change your mind, to grow, to learn, to say you were wrong?” he said.
Sasse has opposed forgiveness of student loans, endorsed tenure reviews for faculty and praised hybrid college classes that include online components.
During Sasse’s appearance on campus last month, hundreds of student protesters disrupted question-and-answer sessions by chanting and banging on the building’s walls and doors.
Sasse’s selection follows years of political storms that have swirled over the school, even as the governor’s administration has increased the university’s funding and allowed it to hire more professors.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected].