Since UF President Ben Sasse took office in early February, he’s been selective about his public appearances. But behind the scenes in Tigert Hall, his first semester in Florida has featured a complicated state legislative session, a potential graduate campus in Jacksonville and meetings with faculty leaders.
On Sasse’s second day on the job, he traveled to Jacksonville to announce plans for a new graduate campus in partnership with the city of Jacksonville, which is expected to cost $100 million divided equally between UF and the city. Sasse also made two appearances at Faculty Senate meetings: once as a surprise Feb. 16 and again April 20.
UF Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin has been in regular contact with Sasse, she said, and sees him in Tigert Hall in early mornings.
She and 10 other faculty senate leaders attended a dinner with the president and his family at their house March 21. The group had a good conversation about challenges and opportunities at the university, Phalin said.
“I don't think that he's someone that's just going to speak about plans for the sake of speaking about plans,” she said.
While acclimating to Florida, Sasse has been paying attention to higher education reforms in the Florida Legislature, like House Bill 999 and Senate Bill 266, Phalin said. Despite a busy legislative session, she thinks Sasse has met the moment.
“He's doing a lot of work with regards to all the legislation,” she said. “And I know that because I’ve seen him in Tallahassee doing the work.”
Sasse is scheduled to speak to Phalin’s international business class April 24. He’ll spend 20 minutes answering questions about his time on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Students can actually hear from somebody who's been working in this space, creating laws and policy in this space,” Phalin said. “It connects directly to all of the concepts and key studies that we've looked at in our class throughout the semester.”
However, Sasse is a different type of president. Compared to former UF President Kent Fuchs, Sasse has been less interactive with students on campus.
“The way that they are personality-wise and interacting with folks is just a very different style,” Phalin said. “Neither good nor bad, but very different. And I think it's a big change for people to get used to.”
Sasse hasn’t spoken with The Alligator or other news sources despite multiple email requests and phone calls. During a tailgate before the Orange and Blue football game April 12, he told an Alligator reporter he wasn’t speaking to the press. After he spoke at the April 20 Faculty Senate meeting, he slipped out before an Alligator reporter could approach him.
Brenda Sanchez, a 22-year-old UF biochemistry senior, has noticed less tangible evidence that Sasse has been on campus, she said. She recalled that Fuchs once ate at the Reitz Union with his family — an example of activities she expects from a university president.
“Any sort of faculty connection with students is really important, but I feel like there's a certain additional aspect of it if you are the president,” she said. “I feel like you are the face of the university. It is a key responsibility to have that connection with the student body.”
Other students have also noticed the difference.
Ren Price, a 19-year-old UF zoology sophomore, hasn’t seen Sasse on campus this Spring semester. As well as interacting with the student body, Price said, they expect the president to protect campus from potentially harmful legislation, particularly in the case of transgender students.
“I would expect them to give updates,” Price said. “What are they doing? What are they like? What are their plans for the coming semester? Are they going to raise tuition? No clue. I don't like radio silence.”
Contact Alissa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a second-year journalism major who's covering K-12 education for The Alligator. She has previously reported on student government and university administration. Aside from writing, she likes to take care of her plants and play (and usually win) the New York Times sudoku puzzle.