GAINSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska faced sharp questions and loud protests Monday when he made his first visit to the University of Florida as the lone finalist in the presidential race.
A two-term Republican senator, Sasse has drawn criticism at his school in Gainesville, Fla., for his stance on same-sex marriage and other LBGTQ issues. Some question his ability to run a sprawling school of over 50,000 students.
Individual meetings on Monday were held with students, faculty and staff on campus. during those sessions gainesville sun reported that about 1,000 people yelled, “Hey, hey, hey, hey, Ben Sasse has to go,” interrupting at least one meeting.
“Sasse doesn’t really believe in equality based on sexual orientation,” said college senior Nathan Norst. “So how can he adequately represent student bodies, faculty, and his core University of Florida values of diversity, equity, and inclusion?”
Sasse, 50, was president of Midland College in Fremont, Nebraska. At this university he has over 1,600 students. When asked at a conference Monday whether he opposes same-sex marriage, he said it is a national law decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and his goal is to create “a place of respect and inclusion for all gators.” The sports mascot of the Southeastern Conference School.
“I have taken political and policy positions to represent the views of the people of Nebraska. According to The Sun, Mr. Sasse said that having the job of president of UF is a whole different job.” As president of UF, it’s my job to celebrate everything that’s happening in this community and be a storyteller, a resource getter and a salesman.”
Sasse also said he believes climate change has a human cause, but doesn’t always support federal efforts to address it.
Organizations that organized Monday’s protest included UF College Democrats, Young Demonsocialists and Graduate Assistants United, the paper reported.
Some students were concerned about the secret selection process used when choosing Sasse. New Florida law allows universities to conduct many processes outside the state’s public meeting and public records laws.
“I feel like my voice doesn’t matter,” says UF freshman RJ Della Salle of the closed system.
Sasse, who is also a rare Republican critic of former President Donald Trump, said students have every right to protest.
“Of course, I wish they weren’t in the position they are in now, but I strongly support people’s right to protest and exercise their free speech,” he said.
Sasse, who resigned from the Senate to take up the position, was nominated by the Search Commission for the school’s rector. He still faces a vote by the school board and then has to be confirmed by the state board.