Haley Fox, René Kronlage, MK Matsuda and Emily Whitehead
On Oct. 6, the University of Florida made national news when it announced, “After months of listening to UF community input and vetting hundreds of applicants, the Presidential Search Committee has unanimously recommended United States Senator Dr. Ben Sasse as the sole finalist to become the University of Florida’s 13th president. ”
Considering the hostile political climate of the country, many were surprised by the boldness of this choice. While we understand there were many layers involved in this decision, as students we were left wondering: With such a controversial figure, whose input did the presidential search committee take into account with this recommendation?
As students of UF, we believe a university president should have experience working at a large university before running one. Sasse’s sole experience as a university president was the five years he spent serving Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska.
Midland University is a private Lutheran college with a 1,600-person student body. It is also vastly different from UF, as we are a public institution with 35 times the number of students.
During his time at Midland, Sasse was able to double student enrollment by incorporating students from a nearby college, through graduation initiatives and by expanding athletic programs. While it is notable that Sasse’s leadership saved this institution from the brink of bankruptcy, UF is home to a much more expansive and diverse student body with challenges far different from a lack of potential enrollment.
Most importantly, we as students believe our next university president should be a welcoming figure to the students they represent. Sasse has been vocal about his stance against women’s reproductive rights.
Earlier this year, he spoke against a pro-choice bill, calling it “radicalism.” He later went on to describe the overturning of Roe v. Wade as “righting a Constitutional wrong.” This politicizing and celebration of the limitation to someone’s personal health care decisions is not only invasive, but an unsettling prospect considering the majority of UF’s student body is female and of childbearing age.
It is also indisputable that Sasse has held longstanding, controversial and outdated views on LGBTQIA + rights. Just last year, he voted in favor of an amendment to HR 1319 that would have denied funding to institutions of higher education if they allowed biologically male students to participate in women’s sports – a political effort many believe to be transphobic behavior.
Of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to federally legalize same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Sasse commented the ruling was “a disappointment” because marriage “brings a wife and a husband together so their children can have a mom and a dad.” With recent surveys reporting up to 21% of college students identify as LGBTQIA +, these statements are alienating to many UF students.
The president of a university should seek to support and uplift students. We are glad to hear Sasse is planning to meet with leaders of the LGBTQIA + community at UF. However, he has not acknowledged an understanding that his words and actions as senator have hurt the LGBTQIA + community that many students (and our educators) belong to.
Instead, Sasse has dismissed these concerns by expressing he was representing the people of Nebraska. In the absence of further information, how else are we to assess how Sasse’s personal beliefs could translate into his ability to lead our university in an inclusive manner?
We applaud the Presidential Search Committee’s efforts to include the UF community in this decision; we know it is not an easy task. With that being said, we the students are important stakeholders for who is chosen to represent us, and we do not feel the values and beliefs held by many of us were represented in the selection of Sasse as sole finalist for university president.
Sasse has not worked for a large university, and he has propagated discriminatory, restrictive ideology throughout his career. We are therefore concerned with how he could lead and represent our school as the next university president.
We deserve a university president who is familiar with the workings of a large university and respects who we are and our choices without judgment.
Haley Fox, René Kronlage, MK Matsuda and Emily Whitehead are students in the UF College of Medicine.
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