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UF students storm building, shout down Q&A with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse

A large swarm of students stormed a campus building Monday afternoon at the University of Florida to protest Republican Senator Ben Sasse as the sole UF presidential candidate, a demonstration so rowdy it reportedly led to the early ending of a Q&A the politician was engaged in with students as part of the hiring process.

The protest was organized by a cadre of left-leaning student groups on campus such as the College Democrats and Young Democratic Socialists of America. Demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “drain our swamp,” “Sasse sucks ass” and “Gaytors against Sasse.”

“After just ten minutes protesting outside, around 300 protestors moved up the staircase of Emerson Alumni Hall to the second floor. UF administrators and police stood stone-faced outside the ballroom, Emerson Hall echoing from the slams of dozens of fists on the solid wooden doors to the ballroom,” the Alligator student newspaper reported.

“’Hey hey, ho ho, Ben Sasse has got to go,’ they thundered. Sasse attempted to persevere by answering moderated questions, but the shouts began to drown out his responses,” the newspaper added. “… [P]rotesters streamed into the ballroom after the student forum concluded and Sasse and Student Body President and moderator Lauren Lemasters left the room — 15 minutes ahead of schedule.”

Sasse, of Nebraska, is expected to resign to take the helm as president of the University of Florida if its leaders officially offer him the position. The University of Florida Presidential Search Committee unanimously recommended him as the sole finalist for consideration by its Board of Trustees, who will formally consider Sasse’s candidacy at their meeting Nov. 1.

According to the Alligator, the student protesters hung around the building in an attempt to confront Sasse when he left, but did not get to him, as he was ushered quickly into a car protected by law enforcement.

In addition to the protest, a petition launched Friday is underway.

“This decision is met with indignation from the student body as Ben Sasse has political views that do not align with the values that the students at the University of Florida hold. They are discriminatory and non-representative of our student population,” states the petition, which had nearly 1,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

But not all on the campus of about 50,000 students is opposed to Sasse. Matt Turner, the president of the University of Florida College Republicans, told The College Fix on Friday that “Senator Sasse seems to have several qualities that would make him an effective president for all students, regardless of their political affiliation.”

“But as it stands now, there is already a protest being organized to oppose the senator without any reason other than the fact that he is a Republican. Protesting somebody purely because there is an ‘R’ next to their name cuts directly against the principles of tolerance and merit-based evaluation that this university used to stand for. The members of my organization have certainly felt this degradation, and it needs to end,” Turner said.

In May of this year, the Atlantic published Sasse’s take on how to fix higher education. He offered a number of prescriptions, such as: “ending the tyranny of four-year degrees,” “ditching the credit hour,” “rethinking metrics for teaching and learning,” and “encouraging corporate-led certification programs.”

According to his Senate bio, “Ben spent five years as a college president. When he was recruited to lead Midland University, Ben was just 37, making him one of the youngest college presidents in the nation. The 130-year-old Lutheran college in Ben’s hometown was on the verge of bankruptcy when he arrived, but became one of the nation’s fastest-growing schools just three years later.”

Sasse did defend the right to protest.

“At times, the chants became louder when a door to the room would open, with the session at one point pausing for 30 seconds while the GOP senator was answering a question about in-person, hybrid and zoom classes,” The Hill reported.

“Obviously, I wish they didn’t have the position they have, but I strongly support the right people to protest and exercise their free speech rights,” Sasse said in response. “I won’t say I precisely welcome the protesters, but I sort of intellectually and constitutionally welcome the protesters.”

MORE: Left-wing U. Florida students petition, protest to cancel GOP Sen. Sasse as incoming president

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.