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UF Faculty Senate approves vote of no confidence in presidential selection process

Lisa Lundy speaks to the Faculty Senate Thursday. Lundy spoke about her role in the search committee. (Emily Ferguson/WUFT News)
Lisa Lundy speaks to the Faculty Senate Thursday. Lundy spoke about her role in the search committee. (Emily Ferguson/WUFT News)

The University of Florida Faculty Senate approved a resolution Thursday indicating it has no confidence in a selection process that designated Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, as the sole nominee to be UF’s 13th president.

After two-and-a-half hours of debate, the Senate voted, 72-16, to approve the resolution drafted last week following faculty's dissatisfaction with a lack of openness in the selection process. Many faculty members were also displeased with Sasse’s lack of support for abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Many of the approximately 100 senators and spectators at the Senate Chamber of the J. Wayne Reitz Union erupted into applause when the resolution was finally approved after the faculty senate slogged through multiple amendments. 

Sasse next appears before the UF Board of Trustees on Tuesday for a final interview. At that meeting, the trustees are expected to vote on his appointment.

“I would love to see the Board of Trustees look at the student vote, look at our vote, and say ‘Woah, maybe we’ve made an error,’” said Breann Garbas, the resolution’s sponsor and assistant professor of physician assistant studies. “Do I think that will happen? Unfortunately not.” 

Despite faculty and student opposition, Sasse’s approval by the trustees appears likely. Neither Sasse nor UF President Kent Fuchs attended the meeting

Faculty senators repeatedly asked Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin if the no-confidence vote would affect the Board of Trustees’ decision. 

“I have to vote in what I believe to be the best interest of this institution,” Phalin said. 

Though the vote to approve the resolution will not directly affect the UF Board of Trustees’ decision, faculty senators said they wanted to show disapproval of the selection process. This comes just a week after the UF Student Senate approved its own resolution condemning the selection process.

Lisa Lundy, a presidential search committee member, fielded questions from faculty senators, including one about whether there had ever been a previous single-candidate selection.

“I don’t know the answer to that question – I wasn’t here when Dr. Fuchs was selected,” Lundy responded. “I never got the sense that it was our intention to forward through just one candidate.”

Others expressed concerns about Sasse’s political background interfering with his role as president. A faculty senator asked if Sasse’s Republican background was brought up during the selection process, to which Lundy said: “It wasn’t discussed at all.” 

Gene Witmer, associate professor of philosophy and a faculty senator, said that many faculty members were overwhelmingly supportive of the resolution. 

“I’ve heard from an enormous number of colleagues urging me to vote for no confidence,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone say anything to the contrary.” 

Like many faculty senators, Witmer said he was unhappy with the selection process. “He actually seems like a smart and interesting guy, but the way this was done is crazy,” he said. 

David Bloom, a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and a member of the search committee, argued that Sasse’s Republican affiliation would not adversely affect his ability to lead UF.

“He’s sort of an accidental politician,” Bloom said. “I don’t think his Republican affiliation would hurt negotiations with state legislators … he has this sort of communication style that brings people together.”  

Senators also expressed concerns about Sasse’s academic credentials. They questioned whether the senator’s experience as president at a private Lutheran university in Nebraska was sufficient.

“I wouldn’t compare Midland University to UF,” Lundy said. “They’re two very different places.”

Another senator asked whether Sasse had been selected for his fundraising abilities. 

“I think fundraising is certainly a big part of what a president does,” Lundy said. “But I don’t think it’s just fundraising; it’s helping us build connections.”

Whether faculty senators like the candidate or not, many could agree that the selection process was flawed. 

Michael Davis, faculty senator and assistant professor in the College of Medicine, said he conducted an informal poll among faculty members that resulted in 568 votes for no confidence and 216 votes against. 

“It may just be an expression of general frustration,” Davis said. “However, I’m concerned this vote may be the wrong approach.” 

A vote of no confidence would be counterproductive because it lacks a solution, Davis said. 

“My resolution has a fatal flaw; it’s a complaint without an action,” Garbas said. “But I still think that getting your voice out and making a statement even in the high unlikelihood of any action is important”

Jack is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.