Days ahead of the likely nomination of U.S. Sen. Benjamin E. Sasse as the next president of the University of Florida, the institution’s Faculty Senate on Thursday expressed no confidence in a selection process that ended up with him as the only finalist.
The Florida Board of Trustees will formally interview Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, and vote on his appointment on Tuesday.
The faculty group’s resolution, which passed by a vote of 67-15, took aim at Florida’s presidential search committee and its secretive selection of Sasse this month. The search process “has undermined the confidence of the University of Florida Faculty Senate in selecting the sole finalist, Dr. Ben Sasse,” the resolution said.
When the presidential search committee’s unanimous approval of Sasse was announced, the selection sparked controversy for its lack of transparency: The other finalists were not named because of a new Sunshine State law that allows public colleges to maintain the anonymity of presidential nominees.
The faculty senate resolution notes that there is a lack of confidence because the selection process did not allow the faculty to be informed of other candidates. The resolution also states, “The next president should already be equipped to lead an institution of this caliber rather than learning on the job. Anything less leads to a lack of faith in leadership.
The faculty voted on the resolution after a discussion that became heated at times.
The vote was led by Faculty Senate Chair Amanda J. Phalin, a senior lecturer in the university’s business school who has repeatedly expressed strong support Sasse to meet.
Before the vote, Lisa K. Lundy, a member of the search committee and professor of agricultural education and communication, spoke to the Senate about her role in the process.
“I love our students and I want this university to be the best it can be — that was my motivation” for serving on the committee, Lundy said. “I had no motivation to choose a certain candidate and I was never encouraged to choose a certain candidate.”
As he met with all the presidential candidates, Lundy Sasse impressed him as the one who could best meet the demands of the job.
Lundy also read a statement from Associate Professor of Public Administration David Mitchell, who was also on the search committee. The statement expressed support for Sasse’s selection, saying: “There is no need to reveal any secrecy or illicit process. He was the committee’s best choice for the role.
After the committee selected Sasse, the faculty had strong reactions. Some professors expressed opposition to his views gay marriage, abortionand climate change. Other faculty members questioned whether he had enough experience to lead one of the nation’s largest research institutions.
Before being elected to the Senate in 2014, Sasse served five years as president of Midland University, a small Lutheran institution in his native Nebraska.
The students were also vocal about the choice. Nearly 1,000 protesters thronged the campus forum where Sasse spoke this month. The protest, which involved “knocking on windows, walls and furniture,” prompted the university to announce that it would impose a ban on protests in academic buildings. Associated Press reported.
Florida’s search committee contacted more than 700 potential applicants for the position and identified “ten highly qualified candidates,” including nine senior presidents at major research universities. Tampa Bay Times reported.
Meanwhile, other Florida universities have struggled to attract leadership candidates in recent months.
The University of Florida has been mired in controversy over the past year. The institution made national headlines after barring faculty members from testifying in a voting-rights lawsuit against the state of Florida, igniting complaints that the ruling — later reversed — violated professors’ academic freedom.
If appointed, Sasse will succeed W. Kent Fuchs, who announced in January that he would step down and rejoin the faculty after seven years as president.
Earlier in his career, Sasse taught history as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Harvard and Yale, respectively.