UF Pres. Ben Sasse welcomed by leftist protesters claiming ‘far rightist political agenda’

As former U.S. Senator Ben Sasse assumed the University of Florida presidency, protesters demanded that he ‘act in the best interest of the UF community, not a far rightist political agenda.’

Protesters were also concerned about the state of DEI after Gov. DeSantis investigated colleges’ DEI spending and introduced a sweeping legislative agenda that could dismantle DEI in higher education.

Editor’s Note: An earlier draft of this article published the morning of Feb. 7. omitted the number of protesters and one of the protesting organizations, the Young Democratic Socialists of America. This article has now been updated to include the most recent information. 

As Ben Sasse assumed the University of Florida (UF) presidency, protesters demanded that he “act in the best interest of the UF community, not a far rightist political agenda.”

Sasse, a former Republican U.S. Senator for Nebraska, has come under fire from students, faculty, staff, and others in the UF community for his conservative positions and UF’s presidential selection process, according to a report in The Gainesville Sun. For his conservative positions, the report noted his “disappointment” in 2015 when a Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage. 

Protesters also expressed concern over the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at UF. After Gov. Ron DeSantis investigated Florida public colleges’ DEI spending, he introduced a sweeping legislative agenda that could dismantle DEI in hiring, curricula, and programming. 

[RELATED: DeSantis admin claims universities ‘significantly misreported and under-reported’ DEI spending: report]

UF Graduate Assistants United (UF-GAU), the union representing graduate workers, shared an Instagram post announcing the protest, which involved around 100 members of the UF community, according to The Gainesville Sun. Organizations such as the Young Democratic Socialists of America joined the protest. 

“UF has rolled over as DeSantis continues to attack academic freedom, our transgender community members, and our institutional sovereignty,” the post reads. Protesters demanded competitive salaries and wages for all UF employees, Sasse’s disavowal of “attacks from Tallahassee on academic and free speech,” a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and tenure protection. 

To maintain pre-existing DEI commitments, UF-GAU wrote, UF must “continue providing gender-affirming care and comprehensive reproductive care regardless of the Florida Board of Medicine ‘standard of care.’” 

The Florida Board of Medicine, a regulatory group appointed by the governor that oversees medical providers, will soon hear another round of public comments on banning transgender care for minors, according to the Tallahassee Democrat

Protesters also demanded UF’s non-compliance with House Bill 7, the 2022 legislation commonly referred to as the Stop WOKE Act. 

Guidance from former UF President Kent Fuchs warned that universities could face financial penalties for non-compliance with HB 7. He summarized HB 7 as a bill mandating that discussions on “race, color, national origin, or sex” happen “in an objective manner.” 

Fuchs’ guidance said “that instructors may continue to address important academic subjects,” but the bill seeks to prohibit teaching “the ‘right’ point of view or compel or encourage students to adopt a specific belief.” 

UF’s search committee to replace Fuchs, The Gainesville Sun reported, received criticism for selecting Sasse as the only finalist “and because of his political background.”

[RELATED: PROF. GIORDANO: Ben Sasse is the right man for the University of Florida]

“It later came out at the UF Board of Trustees meeting where he was unanimously approved that no other finalist wanted to come forward unless they were selected as the sole finalist,” The Gainesville Sun wrote. 

At a previous protest covered by The Gainesville Sun, Sasse said, “Obviously I wish they didn’t have the position they have but I strongly support the right of people to protest and exercise their free speech rights.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.