Senator Ben Sasse Named Sole Finalist for University of Florida President

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

The lawmaker said he wanted to return to academia as the country rethinks “radical work disruption” after the pandemic.

“The UF is the most important institution in the most economically dynamic state in the country,” he said in A declaration. “The Washington Partnership will not solve these labor issues – new institutions and entrepreneurial communities will need 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 ultimately accepts the position, Republican Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will appoint a successor under state law.

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

University President W. Kent Fuchs – who announced in January that he would “step up from president to professor” when his successor is named – has led the university since 2015.

Fuchs has touted his success in elevating the university’s public stature, leading its $3 billion capital campaign, and keeping tuition fees down.

But he drew criticism from some faculty members who said he too often let political pressure from heads of state influence areas such as pandemic response, research and academic freedom on campus.

The school’s candidates for a new president have been kept secret pursuant to a Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in March. That search included “hundreds of applicants,” according to a letter sent to University of Florida alumni by Mori Hosseini, chairman of the school’s board of trustees.

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Sasse was elected to the Senate in 2014 while serving as president of Midland Lutheran University, which he had led since 2010. He has presented himself as a vocal critic of the Obama administration, particularly the affordable care.

Once seen as a powerful dissenting voice within the GOP during the early years of the Trump presidency, Sasse, 50, eventually became less vocal as it became clear that his constituents and his party’s politics were closer to those of the former president.

Sasse was easily re-elected in 2020, but much quieter after years of disagreeing with Trump and other party leaders.

Prior to becoming a legislator, Sasse worked with several Christian organizations, including the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), where he was executive director, and several federal government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where George W. Bush appointed 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 then earned his doctorate at 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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