U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
The Florida Board of Governors has approved U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as the next president of University of Florida, following weeks of controversy surrounding his status as the sole finalist to emerge from a secretive presidential search.
“President-elect Ben Sasse had a bold vision for higher education, the University of Florida, and our partnership with the state universities in this great system,” UF Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini said during the board’s meeting Wednesday in Tampa.
“His passion for lifelong learning and teaching our students to be prepared for the changing world is unmatched. His high intellect, intelligence, has made him a sought-out leader on some of the world’s most complex issues, and his grip, humility, good nature, and ability to relate to people of all backgrounds have made him successful at every turn in his broad career.”
Sasse’s road to the UF presidency has been met with controversy, as some students and faculty have voiced concerns about Sasse’s track record as a political figure, particularly regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
Others worry about the secretive manner in which Sasse became the only publicly known candidate in presidential search.
Sasse, who joined the meeting virtually, said that as UF president he wants to see the university challenge students with new ideas “even when they’re uncomfortable.”
“We want to build a culture of folks that enthusiastically embrace debate and recognize that truths are complicated, and you need to encounter other people’s perspectives on issues to refine what you believe,” Sasse said.
He reiterated that when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community at UF, he has promised to meet some members of the community and that he would be advised by exiting UF president Kent Fuchs about how those conversations have taken place in the past.
‘Step back from politics’
Sasse plans to “take a step back” from partisan politics, he said, pledging not to speak at political events and to cease partisan political contributions.
“I would be freezing my political committees and fund accounts, so that I would contribute to no partisan political individuals or campaigns. And I wouldn’t surrogate for any candidate,” Sasse told the board.
“So, just for what it’s worth, I think some of the concerns have been a belief that because I’ve served in a partisan capacity for the last seven years and 10 months that somehow that would be a key part of my life going forward. I don’t have any bandwidth to do that.”
His new job entails a hefty pay raise. Sasse’s contract, posted online ahead of the meeting, outlines an annual salary of more than $1 million dollars, a long list of benefits, and reimbursements for travel and other expenses.
Sasse’s term will begin on Feb. 6, 2023, and is due to run through Feb. 5, 2028, although the term can be expanded or terminated early by the board, according to the contract.
The annual base salary will automatically increase by up to 4 percent every year depending on the university’s progress toward “short term” and “long term goals.” If the university does not reach at least 50 percent of the “short-term goals,” there would be no raise that year.
Sasse would receive an annual bonus of as much as 15% as long as he remains in good standing with the board.
As a U.S. senator, Sasse earns under $200,000 annually, according to federal data.
The Nebraska senator was announced in October as the “sole finalist” to emerge from UF’s presidential search, due in part to a new law.
During the regular 2022 legislative session, Florida lawmakers approved an exemption to public disclosure laws for university presidential searches until the finalists are announced. Previously, candidates were available to the public from the beginning of the search.
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