Ben Sasse’s first day as University of Florida president
Students, faculty and staff plan organized protests today to demand protection and freedom under the new administration.
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On Feb. 6, former Republican senator for Nebraska Ben Sasse assumed the post of University of Florida president. Protests have been organized to ensure Sasse’s commitment to political neutrality and defending academic freedom.
Recent reforms proposed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have increased tensions in the state. Last month, Florida College Systems presidents signed a statement to “not fund or support any institutional practice, policy, or academic requirement that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts.”
Scholars and other critics of the measure say the reform threatens academic freedom. The presidents stated that initiatives are pushing “ideologies such as critical race theory and its related tenets,” instead of promoting what they were supposed to: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Although Sasse promised political neutrality in the position; students, faculty and staff have some reasons to be suspicious about the new president. Sasse had a strange solo candidacy after changes in the Florida law allowing UF to unveil just a single finalist from a pool of candidates. He also doesn't have a good record regarding LGBT+ rights — during the Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2015, he argued that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
UF students, faculty and staff are committed to making sure their voices are heard by organizing a protest on Sasse’s first day in the office. UF Graduate Assistants United — labor union that represents more than 4,000 graduate employees at the institution — shared last Friday on Twitter a message calling everyone to join. “Monday is Ben Sasse's first day as president. Let's give him a warm welcome to the swamp,” they wrote.
As stated by Inside Higher Ed, a press release shared last week stated that protest organizers are also demanding that Sasse provide raises for staff, graduate assistants and other workers; publicly disavow attacks from state lawmakers on academic freedom and free speech; commit to “non-compliance with state-imposed list-making activities targeting freedom of political thought, racial equity, and gender-affirming care”; maintain pre-existing DEI commitments, including “providing gender-affirming care and comprehensive reproductive care” as well as working toward climate and sustainability goals; and commit to tenure protections for UF faculty.
The protest is expected to take place today at 2:00 p.m. outside Tigert Hall (13th St).
To read more about Sasse’s challenges and vision for UF, click here.