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Monday, December 05, 2022

Some UF alumni threaten to pull donations, others praise university after Ben Sasse finalist decision

Past Gators reflect on their experience with administration compared to 2022

After UF announced its sole presidential finalist Sen. Ben Sasse, the university will no longer receive donations from decades-loyal alumnus Stan Larson. 

As a 2003 graduate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Larson witnessed the selection process of former UF president, Charles Young, as a student. But this time around, the selection process is vastly different. Sasse’s nomination was “nakedly political” and appeared to be a power grab from the Florida Legislature, he said. 

“We didn't have the need to go out and protest any president or anyone in the administration because it wasn’t radical,” Larson said. “I remember feeling supported there. As a student, I didn't feel interfered with in any way.”

UF may suffer the loss of faculty and students from the selection, Larson said. 

When he decided to go to college in 1999, UF was an easy choice for its prestige and economical value. Now, prospective students may not feel similar in the wake of UF’s presidential announcement. 

“I would have to really think hard about it,” Larson said. “I would wonder if I'm going straight into a government-controlled entity that's not truly free.”

Following Sasse’s contentious selection as UF’s lone presidential finalist, many alumni have taken to social media to express their disappointment or support of the choice. Hundreds of alumni comments flooded UF’s official finalist announcement on Twitter, with many expressing concern with the university’s direction. 

During the course of an annual UF fundraising campaign, an average of $178 million per year is donated to the university from alumni, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan wrote in an email. 

But UF understands the Sasse decision may come at a price, Roldan said.

“We value and respect the views and opinions of all of our generous and loyal alumni,” Roldan said, inviting people to provide feedback using the presidential search website.

Lindsey Backman, a 2015 UF alumna, said she fondly recalled President Kent Fuchs’ selection as UF’s 12th president in January 2015 because of his experience in higher education, research and academic administration. Before taking his current role at UF, Fuchs served as the provost for Cornell University.

“I actually do remember that process and was paying pretty close attention to it,” she said. “I was pursuing a career in academia and research, so I was really excited that UF was able to attract somebody from a major research university with the right expertise.”

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This year’s selection process was frustrating, Backman added, due to new legislation decreasing transparency for the presidential selection process at public colleges and universities in Florida. Sasse’s finalist status was shocking because of his inexperience with academic administration at a large research university, she said. 

Sasse served as the 15th president at Midland University, a Lutheran college in Nebraska with a total population just shy of 1,600, according to its website.

As an alumna, Backman said the university’s reputation isn’t the only thing on the line — proper advocacy for research funds is, too. Research funds heavily depend on the president, she said, and bringing in a politician who lacks that expertise could taint UF’s reputation as a research university.

“I would worry that having somebody who is not well-versed on how higher education administration runs would not be able to do the proper job and would not be fully respected within academia,” Backman said.

Robert Krupczak, a 1989 graduate, said that while he doesn’t entirely agree with Sasse’s political views, he couldn’t think of a more outstanding candidate for the role.

There’s no way someone who wasn’t at least somewhat conservative would be hired, Krupczak said. If someone more progressive filled the position, he or she would be ineffective working with the university system, the state Legislature or the governor to improve the university, he added.    

“I think he can provide the kind of political coverage to deescalate cultural war crap that is increasingly looking like it's being imposed on the university from outside,” he said. 

Now located in Georgia, Krupczak said the reputation of UF will continue to affect alumni long after they’ve earned their degrees. 

“It doesn't matter whether I graduated in 1989 or 2022,” he said. “If Ben Sasse can move Florida up in rankings or depoliticize things and focus on the health of the university, we all win because it all helps our reputations as Florida alumni.”

Marji Hope, a 1986 graduate, is the mother to a current UF sophomore student. Opposed to the implications Sasse’s leadership could have, her opinions are multi-faceted due to her dual identity as both an alumna and a parent, she said. 

If alumni stop their donations, it could potentially affect UF’s top-5 ranking, which she said could complicate her daughter’s experience. 

“As a parent, I have two and a half years to get my daughter graduated. I'm hoping that nothing significant happens that affects the university’s status,” she said. “It's significant when you graduate from a top-5 public university.”

Contact Peyton at pharris@alligator.org or follow her on Twitter at @peytonlharris.

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Peyton Harris

Peyton Harris is a first-year English major and the News Assistant for The Alligator. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and spends her free time re-listening to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and binging Criminal Minds.


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