UF announced Thursday afternoon that Sasse was selected as the sole finalist for the job, following a national search of more than 700 candidates.
Sasse, 50, is in his second term in the Senate and, if approved by UF's Board of Trustees, would become the 13th president in the university's history. The board is scheduled to formally consider his candidacy at its Nov. 1 meeting.
'He played a great role': UF students say Kent Fuchs was welcoming president, express hopes for his successor
“The University of Florida is the most interesting university in America right now,” Sasse said in a prepared statement. “It’s the most important institution in the nation’s most economically dynamic state — and its board, faculty and graduates are uniquely positioned to lead this country through an era of disruption."
Sasse is scheduled to visit the UF campus Monday to meet with students, faculty and other members of the university community.
Lack of transparency in search
A bill signed into law in March, SB 520, allowed UF to conduct much of the presidential search outside of the requirements of Florida’s open meetings and public records laws. Under the measure, the university was allowed to keep the names of candidates secret and only publicly announce the names of any finalists.
UF reported that its search committee focused attention on a dozen candidates that included nine sitting presidents at major research universities, but that Sasse was the committee's unanimous choice. Sasse is expected to resign from his Senate seat at the end of this year after accepting the offer to become UF president.
Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor and head of its faculty union chapter, said he was disappointed about a lack of community input on the naming of a finalist.
"Sen. Sasse is really going to have to work hard to establish trust because his name has never come up. There hasn't been any community vetting, there hasn't been any town hall meetings," Ortiz said. "This was conducted outside of the Sunshine Act because of the state law. It's going to be very challenging to take the next steps here, because when President Fuchs was appointed, for example, he already had met with a lot of people before his appointment."
Sasse spent five years as the president of Midland University before being elected to the Senate. His prior academic experience included being a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a PhD from Yale University and a bachelor of arts from Harvard University.
His selection comes as questions of political interference have hung over UF, since it was revealed last fall that faculty were barred from testifying in court against policies backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
Rahul Patel, a UF trustee and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, had previously told The Sun that the university was focused on hiring "an accomplished educator of national stature, with recognized scholarly success."
Patel told The Sun Thursday that the search committee unanimously selected Sasse "because he embodies the attributes and leadership qualities identified by the UF community, and the credentials sought by the search committee.
"This was led by the search committee, with direction from the board of trustees, as laid out in Florida statute," he said. "There was no other influence or other body involved in the search process."
Patel said that among the candidates for the job who were sitting university presidents, none of them would come forward as a finalist unless they were chosen as the one sole finalist. He said that Sasse is a "visionary and transformational leader."
If the board of trustees approves Sasse for the job, the selection will be subject to confirmation by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.
Sasse has served as a U.S. senator since 2015. He was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict former president Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, "The Vanishing American Adult” and “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.”
Current UF President Kent Fuchs announced in January that he would be stepping down as president and transitioning to being a professor in the College of Engineering. Following the news, a 14-member search committee was created consisting of trustees, faculty, administrators, alumni and an undergraduate student. A national search firm was also hired.
In May, the search committee conducted 17 listening sessions with faculty and students about the qualities they would like to see in the next president. Among those qualities are someone with a renowned academic background.
Fuchs was provost of Cornell University before he became UF president in 2015. His tenure has included UF achieving long-sought goals such as being named among the nation’s top-five public universities and surpassing $1 billion in research spending.
Reaction to Sasse being selected
Donald Trump isn’t a fan of the choice for the University of Florida’s next president.
Sasse will reportedly resign from the Senate at the end of this year to take the job.
"Great news for the United States Senate, and our Country itself," Trump wrote on the TruthSocial app. "Liddle’ Ben Sasse, the lightweight Senator from the great State of Nebraska, will be resigning. If he knew he was going to resign so early in his term, why did he run in the first place? But it’s still great news! The University of Florida will soon regret their decision to hire him as their President…."
Sasse was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict former President Trump of incitement of insurrection in his second impeachment trial. Trump posted Thursday on his social media platform, Truth Social, that Sasse's resignation was " great news” but that the “University of Florida will soon regret their decision to hire him as their President.”
But not all Republicans dislike the choice.
State Rep. Chuck Clemons said he was “surprised” but “pleased” with the choice.
Clemons, R-Newberry, said he met Sasse six years ago in Washington, D.C., at a conference for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation. Clemons said he came away “impressed with (Sasse’s) understanding of higher education in America.”
Clemons has experience in politics and higher education himself, working as vice president of Santa Fe College's Office for Advancement and as executive director of the Santa Fe Foundation. He said Sasse’s academic background — which includes five degrees, four from Ivy League institutions — should allow him to go toe-to-toe intellectually with university professors.
But he said Sasse’s political experience would also benefit UF.
“We also need to have a person at the University of Florida who can navigate the political waters” in the state and nationally, Clemons said.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse named finalist to land UF presidential job