On Thursday, Oct. 6, after a search involving more than 700 candidates, the University of Florida Presidential Search Committee unanimously recommended U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, to become the university’s 13th president. If selected, Sasse will replace outgoing UF president Kent Fuchs.
Sasse said on Twitter, “UF is the most important institution in the nation’s most economically dynamic state. … I’m delighted to be in conversation with the leadership of this special community about how we might together build a vision for UF to be the nation’s most dynamic, bold, future-oriented university.”
If selected, Sasse is expected to resign from the U.S. Senate, leaving his seat open to appointment by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
“This is right for the University of Florida, right for the state of Florida and right for the Sasse family,” Rahul Patel, chair of the UF Presidential Search Committee, said. “Ben brings intellectual curiosity, a belief in the power and potential of American universities and an unmatched track record of leadership spanning higher education, government and the private sector.”
Sasse is a fifth-generation Nebraskan born in Plainview, Nebraska. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University and holds a Ph.D. from Yale University. He also earned three master’s degrees, building a total of five degrees. In 2010, Sasse was appointed president of Midland University, a private Lutheran university in Nebraska where he served for five years. Sasse is credited with saving Midland University from bankruptcy and effectively increasing student enrollment to about 1,600.
In 2013, Sasse announced his run for the U.S. Senate.
Shortly after a successful 2020 reelection campaign, Sasse was notably one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots.
Sasse’s expected departure from Congress is part of a growing trend of anti-Trump Republicans leaving office either by foregoing reelection or losing their primaries.
The recommendation of Sasse for UF president follows the flagship university’s meteoric rise in national rankings. The U.S. News & World Report ranked UF as a top five public university for the second year in a row, and 29th among American public and private universities. As undergraduate applications have increased, the acceptance rate keeps falling every year — with the class of 2026 rate at a record low of 22.8%.
If appointed president, Sasse would also be taking over after recent controversies regarding academic freedom. In January, a federal judge ruled that UF’s decision to not allow professors to testify in a lawsuit challenging the state of Florida’s vote-by-mail election laws violated their First Amendment rights.
During the 2022 session, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that allowed universities in the state to conduct the presidential selection process outside of the public record and open meeting laws.
Upon Thursday’s announcement, concerns were raised by UF students about Sasse’s political record and proclaimed beliefs.
“I appreciate that Sen. Sasse doesn’t approve of the Trump-controlled Right, but he has already molded this country in a way that goes against the spirit of Gainesville. We want a non-political, non-controversial figurehead who represents the city at large,” UF computer engineering junior Connor Haley told the Florida Political Review. “Sen. Sasse claims to be pro-student, yet he continues to advocate against the recently passed Student Debt Relief Plan, which allocates $10,000 to students who are burdened with scholarly debt.”
Some students felt unheard by the search committee’s decision to recommend Sasse as president.
“I think this will make us go backward as a school, the Board of Trustees has endless options and they go with a person that a lot of the student body does not support,” UF digital arts and science sophomore Melanie Corrales told the Florida Political Review. “They should be taking the students into account because that is why their job exists in the first place.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Sasse issued a statement condemning the court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Today’s ruling is a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad,” Sasse said in his statement. “The Supreme Court once again overstepped its Constitutional role by acting as a super-legislature and imposing its definition of marriage on the American people rather than allowing voters to decide in the states.”
Sasse is also an outspoken pro-life advocate and author of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require doctors to care for babies born after late-term abortions. In a 2022 speech before the Senate floor, Sasse stated that “as we look to the future, our focus should be on continuing to grow the power of the pro-life coalition in this country. … If we can pair certain pro-life laws with increased spending on prenatal care, and safety nets for struggling moms, count me in.”
On Monday, Oct. 10, UF Student Body President Lauren Lemasters will host an open Q&A with Sasse where UF students have the opportunity to submit questions. Simultaneously, various student organizations and unions plan on hosting a protest against the nomination.
“I think we should wait to see what Ben Sasse says on Monday and then make our opinions,” UF journalism sophomore Mistie Webb said. “Hopefully, the Board of Trustees will listen to the student body, alumni, faculty and staff before they make the official decision.”
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Featured image: Ben Sasse speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons License. https://bit.ly/3igKkad