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UF Trustees vote unanimously to make Sasse president

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Today the University of Florida Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hire Senator Ben Sasse as the next president of the university, following a four-hour interview.

The meeting began with an opportunity for public comment, and about a dozen people who had signed up in advance were each given three minutes to speak. All but one opposed the hiring of Sasse; one said the naming of Sasse as the sole finalist for the position was “a non-starter.” Another one said his hiring was “guaranteed to bring shame and embarrassment” to the university. 

A local doctor in private practice said she had read Sasse’s book and thought he was “someone who could inspire us to think of new ways to live together and appreciate each other in a rapidly changing and diverse world.”

Comments about the search process

Presidential Search Committee Chair Rahul Patel described the search process and emphasized that “not one single person in that final group of 12 we spoke with would agree to be named a public finalist unless they were the sole finalist.”

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Mori Hosseini, Chair of the Board of Trustees, also emphasized that point, in response to criticisms of the search process: “The candidates were all very clear, crystal clear, that they would not engage in a process if there was any chance they would be publicly named unless they were the sole finalist. The bottom line is, if we had run a process that required more than one finalist to be publicly disclosed, none – I say it again – none of the top 12 people we interviewed would have stayed in the process. It’s that simple.”

Hosseini also said that “for each of the most recent presidential searches conducted by public universities currently ranked in the top 10, in each case, except for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, they publicly disclosed only one finalist. UC Berkeley – sole finalist in 2017. UCLA – sole finalist in 2006. Number 3, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, sole finalist in 2022, just this year. University of Virginia – sole finalist in 2017. University of Florida – sole finalist sitting in front of us. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – sole finalist in 2019. Number 7, UC Santa Barbara – sole finalist in 1994. Number 8, UC Irvine – sole finalist in 2014. UC San Diego – sole finalist in 2012. UC Davis – sole finalist in 2017. Number 10, University of Texas-Austin – sole finalist.” He said that none of the finalists in Wisconsin’s search were sitting presidents of universities.

Sasse’s opening statement

In his opening statement, Sasse said he was interested in the job because UF is the “most interesting university in the country right now.” 

He outlined his “four grand theses for… the University of Florida to have in common for the coming decade”: 

  1. “The age of technological disruption through which we’re living should be making the academy more relevant, both as a research institution and also, and especially, as an educative preparatory and life transformative institution for 15-23-year-olds, but really for 15-35-year-olds.”
  2. “The path toward the university becoming more relevant is going to require massive change.” He said the university of tomorrow will look very different from the university of 30 years ago. He added, “Many of the loudest people right now… tend to be focused heavily on partisan politics and culture war issues, and yet those issues have almost nothing to do with most of the riddles that we need to navigate in our time.”
  3. “I believe this is the most interesting institution in the state that has the most happening right now and is therefore the best positioned to help lead our country through a time of truly unprecedented change… We’re living in a time when lifelong work is going to end.” Sasse said that young people will not necessarily be able to do the same jobs throughout their lifetimes.
  4. He laid out a timeline for the next 18 months.

He drilled down on the value of work: “Our work is the fundamental driver of identity for most people, and sociologists of the happiness literature will tell you that work is the most important driver of human happiness… If you think somebody needs you to show up [when you go to work], statistically you’re more likely to be happy… We’re entering an age when people will have to navigate [that adolescent-like disruption of identity] many, many, many times in their adult life.” Sasse said technology is eliminating many job skills, and that is expected to continue to happen: “Basically all jobs… are going to experience a great deal of dynamism in the skills that define them.”

Sasse said many firms are finding that recently-graduated students are not prepared to work, so they’re building their own degree-optional parallel paths. He later talked about the opportunities available in partnering with these companies. 

Regarding the timeline, Sasse proposed that he would spend the first month with “lots and lots of assignments” on campus, having conversations with “everybody with an idea about how the University of Florida can do more and better and serve more effectively, both our current constituents and constituents yet to come–bring all your ideas.” The next 3 months would include a “listening tour” throughout the state, and some sort of strategic planning with the Board of Trustees in the year following that. 

In closing, he said, “I am a romantic when it comes to the importance of education and the mission of the university… Education… is about learning how to humbly and meaningfully engage new ideas… It takes a community of learners… to learn how to engage ideas… A healthy university must challenge young women and young men with new and even uncomfortable ideas. A healthy university embraces debate and difference. A healthy university welcomes complicated truths and explores eye-opening perspectives. A healthy university stays humble by understanding that the quest for knowledge and truth is a lifelong endeavor… A healthy university affirms the dignity of every human being and builds a community of inclusion… Deep down, we all know we need things bigger than consumerism and bigger than boring power politics… A healthy university works to expose students to a wide range of opinions, to challenge their assumptions, and to help them refine and consider their arguments, not because we want to indoctrinate them on what they must believe but because we want to teach them how to think for themselves, how to wrestle with competing truths, agree to disagree, and then disagree profoundly and passionately and heartily, argue with sharp minds but open hearts. See the best in the other side… We want to embrace ideas, humility, curiosity, and learning for every single member of this community.”

“A healthy university works to expose students to a wide range of opinions, to challenge their assumptions, and to help them refine and consider their arguments, not because we want to indoctrinate them on what they must believe but because we want to teach them how to think for themselves, how to wrestle with competing truths, agree to disagree, and then disagree profoundly and passionately and heartily, argue with sharp minds but open hearts” – Senator Ben Sasse

Board Discussion

During a period set aside for questions from the Board of Trustees, Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin listed a number of initiatives that Dr. Kent Fuchs has implemented for the LGBTQ+ community, including expanding all-gender bathrooms, adding personal pronouns to Canvas, increasing transgender healthcare options, and enabling UF Health staff to provide contraceptives to students; she asked if Sasse would commit to “preserving these initiatives and services and policies” and “further commit to using your presidency to continue the growth of these LGBTQ+-supporting services on campus.” Sasse responded, “I expect that my record would be fairly indistinguishable from his.” 

Trustee James W. Heavener made the motion to hire Sasse, with a second by Trustee Marsha D. Powers. The vote was unanimous in favor of the hire. Another unanimous vote gave Hosseini the authority to negotiate a contract with Sasse.

  • Ouch! Think the population of Gainesville will decrease?

    We can only hope.😁

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