“UF supports the First Amendment right to free speech and embraces our university as a place where people are able and encouraged to exchange differing viewpoints or express their feelings through peaceful protest,” Fuchs wrote in the campus-wide email. “With this commitment comes an obligation to protect the rights of everyone in our community to speak and to hear.”
“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 said.
Referencing anti-LGBTQ statements made by Sasse in the past, protesters held pride flags and signs calling Sasse a homophobe. The protesters allegedly drowned out his Q&A responses with chants, yelling, “Go back to Nebraska.” He was then escorted out of the building, causing the forum to move online.
Sasse was named the sole finalist in the search for a new leader for the university on Oct. 6. The decision sparked extreme backlash, since Sasse has repeatedly defended his stance on LGBTQ rights, including opposing a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. When asked about his politics at the event, Sasse claimed he would create “a culture of inclusivity” at the university and “advance institutional protections for all students, faculty and staff.”
He also claimed that “whatever positions you’ve had on federal policy or political issues don’t define who any of you are, and they don’t define who I am.”
Voting for Sasse’s appointment is expected to occur on Nov. 1, and students who protest against it are now at risk of violating the school’s code of conduct.
“These are fear tactics,” Rachel Hartnett, the co-president of UF Graduate Assistants United, told WUFT. “Why is Kent Fuchs, why is Ben Sasse, why is the Board of Trustees so afraid of what students have to say?”
Oddly enough, though UF’s policy bans indoor protests, Florida’s campus free speech laws allow students to protest on school grounds.
“One either believes in the First Amendment or one does not,” said Paul Ortiz, president of the local faculty union at the university, according to the Associated Press. “Student, staff and faculty attempts to engage with Senator Sasse and the administration in a very important process were and are being rebuffed.”
According to WUFT, 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 for the university leader position. The demand comes after UF officials claimed they narrowed down to “dozen highly qualified diverse” candidates before choosing Sasse, but the identities were not made public.
The United Faculty of Florida also demands the hiring of any UF president be delayed until the information is released, and the union intends to take legal action if the university does not release the information.
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