GAINESVILLE, Fla – Protestors will not be allowed inside University of Florida buildings after more than 300 students disrupted a meeting with sole presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse during his first on-campus appearance earlier this month.
The two-decade-old regulation will be upheld for the first time in recent years, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote in a campus-wide email, and students who protest indoors may be subject to discipline under the student conduct code.
“These are fear tactics,” said Rachel Hartnett, the co-president of UF Graduate Assistants United. “Why is Kent Fuchs, why is Ben Sasse, why is the Board of Trustees so afraid of what students have to say?”
During his first visit, protestors donned pride flags and held signs calling Sasse (R-Nebraska) a homophobe — referencing what they believe are anti-LGBTQ statements he made in the past — while drowning out his Q&A responses with chants. Police escorted him out of the building, causing the forum to be shortened and moved online.
“We have not enforced this policy in recent years because in the rare cases that protesters entered buildings, they were respectful of others and their rights to speak and to hear,” Fuchs wrote.
This summer, GAU members occupied the university’s administration building to protest stagnant, low wages. They were not met with any threats of disciplinary action.
Protestors, both students and community members who would not face any conduct code violations, are expected during Thursday’s emergency faculty senate meeting, which will determine whether or not to support a “no confidence” vote in the process that resulted in the a sole candidate for the next president.
The United Faculty of Florida submitted a public records request demanding the full list of 700 total applicants and personal identifying information of the final pool of 12 candidates, in addition to meeting notes that discussed applicants. The organization maintains the final group of applicants is no longer exempt from public records laws that cloaked the presidential search since a final candidate has been announced.
UFF also demands the hiring of any UF president be delayed until the information is released and intends to take legal action if the university does not release the information. The university community should know which candidates were considered less qualified Sasse, the organization wrote in a news release.
“The faculty would have preferred an individual who is qualified for the position, not a political appointee,” wrote Paul Ortiz, UFF-UF President. “Our students work too hard to get into this university for someone to waltz into the presidency because of his political affiliation. Our faculty have worked too hard to establish traditions of transparency, accountability and merit in our hiring, tenure and promotion processes. This presidential ‘search’ violates these traditions. This is not Tammany Hall in the 19th century. This is the University of Florida.”
If Sasse wants students to believe he is open to understanding communities he has targeted in the past, he should reach out to on-campus LGBTQ organizations and Chinese students and faculty.
“If he actually wants to be our president and represent us he needs to speak to us,” Hartnett said. “So far the only avenue we have to have our voices be heard is through protest.”
Protestors also plan to station outside the Nov. 1 board of trustees meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall — where Sasse was first faced protestors — and the following board of governors meeting — which would officially confirm Sasse’s candidacy.
Fuchs encouraged students to exercise freedom of speech, but banning indoor protests is not free speech, Hartnett said.
“Kent Fuchs as a president has propelled us into the top five and has been a very friendly and welcoming face for us,” said Rachel Hartnett, the co-president of UF Graduate Assistants United. “I’m really surprised this is how he wants to end his legacy here at UF.”