Sen. Ben Sasse named sole finalist for University of Florida presidency

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), the former president of a small university in Nebraska, has been named the sole finalist to be the next president of the University of Florida, the school announced Thursday.

The lawmaker said he wants to return to academia as the country is rethinking “the radical disruption of work” after the pandemic.

“UF is the most important institution in the nation’s most economically dynamic state,” he said in a statement. “Washington partnership isn’t going to solve these workforce challenges — new institutions and entrepreneurial communities are going to have to spearhead this work.”

“If UF wants to go big, I’m excited about the wide range of opportunities,” Sasse added.

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If Sasse eventually accepts the position, Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts will appoint a successor under state law.

Sasse is expected to resign later this year once the review process takes place and pending final approval of the board, according to a person close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Since he is the only finalist, he is expected to be approved.

The university president, W. Kent Fuchs — who announced in January that he would “transition from president to professor” when his successor is appointed — has led the university since 2015.

Fuchs touted his success in raising the university’s public stature, leading its $3 billion fundraising campaign and holding tuition steady.

But he drew criticism from some faculty members who said he too often allowed political pressure from state leaders to influence areas including pandemic response, research and academic freedom on campus.

The school’s candidates for a new president were kept secret in compliance with a law Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in March. That search included “hundreds of candidates,” according to a letter sent to University of Florida alumni from Mori Hosseini, chair of the school’s board of trustees.

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Sasse was elected to the Senate in 2014 while serving as president of the Lutheran-affiliated Midland University, which he had led since 2010. He ran as a vocal critic of the Obama administration, specifically the Affordable Care Act.

Once viewed as a powerful voice of dissent within the GOP during the earliest years of the Trump presidency, Sasse, 50, eventually became less vocal as it became clear his constituents and his party’s politics were closer line with the former president’s.

Sasse was easily reelected in 2020, but far less vocal following years of disagreement with Trump and other party leaders.

Before becoming a lawmaker, Sasse worked with several Christian organizations including the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), where he was executive director, and multiple federal government agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where George W. Bush nominated Sasse to be assistant secretary for planning and evaluation.

Sasse was born and raised in Nebraska before heading to Harvard University for his undergraduate studies. He went on to earn his doctoral degree from Yale University where he studied the intersection of faith and politics in the two major political parties.

Jacqueline Dupree and Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.


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