The University of Florida’s Faculty Senate approved a no-confidence vote Thursday on the selection process that led to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse being named as the sole finalist to be the next UF president.
The Senate held an emergency meeting on the resolution, which focused on a search committee’s decision to name him as the only finalist for the job. Senators voted 72-to pass the measure, after some criticized the search process as well as past statements made by Sasse on issues such as LGBTQ rights.
Breann Garbas, a Faculty Senate member who drafted the motion, said the problem isn’t that Sasse was selected, it was the way in which he was named as the only finalist.
“The process is the biggest problem here because we don’t know who those other candidates were. We don’t know anything about them and we have no input in this and no say in it as a faculty as a whole,” Garbas said.
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The UF board of trustees is scheduled to consider Sasse for the position Tuesday. The Nebraska Republican is currently serving his second term in the Senate and was previously president of Midland University, a 1,400-student Lutheran school in Nebraska.
Sasse was announced Oct. 6 as the sole finalist for the UF presidency, after a search process that was conducted largely in secret. State legislation approved earlier this year, Senate Bill 520, allowed UF to conduct much of the process outside of Florida’s open meetings and public records requirements.
UF stated that its search committee reached out to more than 700 people and focused on a dozen candidates, including nine sitting presidents at major research universities. Lisa Lundy, an agricultural communications professor who was on the search committee, told the Faculty Senate that other candidates wanted to keep their names confidential unless they were the only choice so they wouldn’t compromise their current jobs.
“I don’t think any of us wanted to have one candidate. We wanted to have three that we could showcase, but the issue is that they didn’t want to be named unless they were the sole candidate,” she said.
Lundy defended the transparency of the search process, stating that the search committee had listening sessions where members of the campus community were able to offer input.
“It was a very thorough and thoughtful search process,” she said.
It was clarified at the meeting that the 15-member presidential search committee used an outside consultant to help with the search process.
UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said in an email that the consultant advised that if UF selected more than one name, it would “adversely impact the quality of the prospects that we would be able to attract, including resulting in each person in our final 12 not moving forward with the process.”
He also that in all of the most recent presidential searches conducted by public universities ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report, with exception of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, they disclosed only one finalist.
What the UF Faculty Senate said about Ben Sasse
The Faculty Senate’s no-confidence resolution stated that the search process “undermined the trust and confidence” of the Faculty Senate in his selection. It also stated that the next UF president “should come already equipped to lead an institution of this caliber rather than aiming to learn on the job. Anything less will result in a lack of faith in leadership.”
Megan Butala, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, said she disagreed with the notion of some faculty members that the measure “doesn’t have any teeth” and was just “a statement of discontent.
“I believe that statements of discontent are still valuable and so I do hope that the board of trustees takes it in that vein, and considers taking different actions moving forward,” Butala said.
The measure followed previous resolutions passed by the United Faculty of Florida union and the UF Student Senate criticizing the choice of Sasse for the job. Other students, faculty and staff also have objected to Sasse’s selection for such reasons as his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Sasse responded to questions about his previous political positions and statements Oct. 10 at Emerson Alumni Hall. He said that he took positions as senator “that represent the views of Nebraskans” and that being UF president was a “completely different job.”
During one of those Q&A sessions, a large group of protesters entered the building chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ben Sasse has got to go.” A subsequent meeting with Sasse had to be moved to another location.
Current UF President Kent Fuchs told students in an email Monday that they would be disciplined if they entered Emerson Alumni Hall to protest during the trustees’ vote. The decision is backed up by a UF regulation that prohibits protests in campus buildings.
If approved by trustees and the Florida Board of Governors, Sasse would be the 13th president of UF. He would succeed Fuchs, who announced in January that he was stepping down as president and moving into a faculty role.
Fuchs’ tenure has included UF achieving long-sought goals such as being named among the nation’s top-five public universities and surpassing $1 billion in research spending. But UF has also faced charges of political interference since it was revealed last fall that faculty were barred from testifying in court against policies backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
Who is Ben Sasse?
Sasse has served as a U.S. senator since 2015. He was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict former president Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial.
Sasse is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, “The Vanishing American Adult” and “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.”
Gershon Harrell is an education reporter at The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached by phone at (352)338-3166, by email at Gharrell@gannett.com or on Twitter at @GershonReports.