No protests allowed inside University of Florida buildings as board considers appointing Sen. Sasse president
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - The University of Florida will enforce a rule banning protests inside campus buildings during a meeting of the board of trustees as they consider appointing a controversial new president at the university. The decision follows an incident where protestors disrupted a question-and-answer event with the candidate.
UF President Kent Fuchs sent a letter to students and staff informing them that the two-decade-old policy against protests in buildings will again be enforced after the administration was lax on the rule in recent years.
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Protestors have opposed the selection of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse as the sole finalist to become the next university president when Fuchs steps down at the end of the year. Opponents have expressed concern over his conservative political positions along with concerns about political influence by Republicans on the university.
During the Oct. 10 student forum for Sasse, a large group of protestors entered the building making loud noises which disrupted the meeting forcing it to move online. Moving forward protests inside campus buildings will be prohibited.
The policy will be enforced during the UF Board of Trustees meeting to consider appointing Sasse as the next president.
“I pray that we will continue to find ways to express ourselves civilly and listen to those who disagree with us or who we find disagreeable — and ensure that all others can do the same,” said Fuchs in the letter.
Dear University of Florida community,
During the Oct. 10 student forum at Emerson Alumni Hall for UF Presidential Candidate Sen. Ben Sasse, a large group of protestors entered the building, chanting loudly, banging their fists on windows, walls and furniture and making it difficult for audience members to hear Dr. Sasse’s responses. When the forum ended and Dr. Sasse left to take a break, the protestors entered the room where he had been responding to questions. As a result, a planned staff forum in that space had to be moved online and was shortened. UF employees who traveled to the forum site did not get to hear Dr. Sasse speak in person, as many had planned to do.
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. As our core value of freedom and civility states, “We are a community that affirms and embraces openness to an inclusive range of viewpoints.” With this commitment comes an obligation to protect the rights of everyone in our community to speak and to hear.
To ensure that those rights are protected at upcoming events, the university will resume enforcement of a regulation on the books for at least two decades, prohibiting protests inside campus buildings. 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. This policy will be enforced during the Nov. 1 UF Board of Trustees meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall, where Dr. Sasse’s candidacy will be considered. Students who violate the regulation may be subject to discipline under the Student Conduct Code.
I want to be clear that the university holds sacred the right to free speech, and I strongly encourage you to exercise it. It is a blessing that distinguishes our great country from many others around the world, and as many from those other countries will tell you, we must protect it vigorously.
Our UF core value of freedom and civility also states, “An open-minded culture is the foundation of freedom of expression and affirms our commitment to academic freedom, which is rooted in mutual respect of others.” Ours is a large university where conversation, civil discourse and dissent are all a regular and needed part of campus life. I pray that we will continue to find ways to express ourselves civilly and listen to those who disagree with us or who we find disagreeable — and ensure that all others can do the same.
UF Core Values: https://www.ufl.edu/about/core-values/
UF campus demonstrations regulation: https://regulations.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2002.pdf
UF Student Conduct Code: https://sccr.dso.ufl.edu/policies/student-honor-code-student-conduct-code/
The United Faculty of Florida is also requesting the release of the names of the other 11 candidates considered for the job of University of Florida president. The union argues the presidential search violated sunshine laws.
The state legislature passed a law exempting university presidential searches from public disclosure requirements. The law, however, does allow the public to know about the “the final group of applicants.” The union claims the search committee selected Sasse as the sole finalist to attempt to bypass the state disclosure requirements.
The union has filed a public records request for the names of the 12 presidential candidates in the final pool before Sasse was selected. They plan to file legal action if the request is denied.
“The faculty would have preferred an individual who is qualified for the position, not a political appointee,” said Paul Ortiz, UF branch president for the United Faculty of Florida. “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.”
On Monday, TV20 also filed a public records request for information on the 12 candidates.
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