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Friday, March 01, 2024

In Defense of Ben Sasse

Dr. Sasse will be a wonderful and thoughtful president

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

I’ll be honest, I never thought that a guy like Sen. Ben Sasse would get so much hate. I have followed him for a few years now as a senator, and regardless of his politics, he’s a man who’s open, caring and thoughtful.

He’s not tossed back and forth by the winds of our angry and bitter political climate. He has real desires and plans to increase the effectiveness of a degree in the real world, and to decrease the mountains of debt that many take on to achieve their education. He doesn’t want cameras in Congress because many hearings devolve into a representative using keywords from their political side with outrage to get footage for ads or the top of the hour news. 

He’s someone who has won with a relatively huge amount of the vote in Nebraska (62%) in part because of his character and how much people like him. He voted to impeach former President Donald Trump. I share these things to help us see that he’s not just someone who we can apply the label of GOP, and then immediately judge based on that. 

I write this op-ed because I think the current political climate blinds our view to many things in American life, and I believe this is one such area. I believe Dr. Sasse will be a wonderful and thoughtful president not just for me, but for every person on campus, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, religion or party affiliation.

That said, I don’t want to ignore the concerns of some of my fellow students and faculty, mostly focusing on his views on the Chinese Communist Party, same-sex marriage and the process which chose him.

I believe he has adequately addressed them in previous statements, his first Q&A, which was very rudely interrupted, and in his final address to the board before their vote to confirm him as president. 

I beg of you, my fellow students, to please watch the recordings to hear his answers and see what he is really like rather than forming your image of him from critical headlines and articles. And to do this with an open mind. What really matters is whether we listen and hear what he says, and whether one thinks he is lying or not. 

As President Kent Fuchs said in a recent email, “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.” 

Tolerance and free speech must flow both ways. Are we going to immediately judge a man we don’t know as untrustworthy, because we don’t have the same politics as him? 

I know the process is also viewed with suspicion and is problematic for many students (and faculty). But Sasse was chosen unanimously by all 15 members of the search committee as the sole finalist, and now by the Board of Trustees to be president, out of a handful of top candidates. And none of whom were willing to go public without being the sole candidate.

This fact gives credence to the necessity of keeping the search behind closed doors until near the end. Many good candidates are scared of applying for such a high-profile job because they might not get it and then suffer bad consequences at their current position. This is the classic trade-off between the effectiveness of a policy and its openness. 

Is Ben Sasse perfect? Of course not. His previous presidential experience was at a small private university, valuable though it is, and he has admitted to speaking unclearly at times and holding political views that cause worry in people. But he has said his personal political views will in no way compromise his ability and desire to advocate for the university and everyone who lives, works and studies here.

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He’s taken a vow of political celibacy, for his benefit as well as ours. 

Finally, I want each of us to think about how the Sasse family might feel. He wants to come down here to serve us, and some of us greet him with shouts and profanity. We can do better than this even while voicing our concerns. If we want to ask someone to treat everyone with compassion and respect, we should do the same to him and his family.

Michael Lynch is a UF second year political science master's student in the public affairs program.

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