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Republican U.S. Sen Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, applauds President Kent Fuchs at the Board of Trustees meeting to discuss his candidacy at Emerson Alumni Hall Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.
Republican U.S. Sen Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, applauds President Kent Fuchs at the Board of Trustees meeting to discuss his candidacy at Emerson Alumni Hall Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.

UF President Ben Sasse hired two of his former U.S. Senate office members — James Wegmann and Raymond Sass — to top positions at the university.

He announced the “cabinet” appointments in a press release Sept. 26.

Wegmann and Sass were previously identified as members of Sasse’s “transition team” in May. Both were offered six-figure salaries in March to become transition advisers to the President’s Office, documents obtained by The Alligator revealed.

Wegmann and Sass — who live in Washington D.C. and Maryland, respectively — do not plan on moving to Florida to work for UF, The Alligator confirmed with UF communications.

A UF spokesperson said UF’s expanding footprint necessitates remote work in some scenarios. 

“At enterprises with the size and scope of UF, having a wide array of work arrangements isn’t unusual — in fact, during this time of digital disruption, it is necessary,” the spokesperson wrote. ”Technology has changed the way we teach and work and it has improved our ability to stay connected: whether team members are in Gainesville or working off campus from a laptop and phone, UF’s administration is built on folks who buy into a hard working big-cause, low-ego mindset no matter where they are.”

The university did not respond to The Alligator’s questions asking whether or not there were open job listings for Wegmann and Sass’ positions. 

Faculty representatives expressed support and skepticism toward Wegmann and Sass’ hiring. 

James Wegmann

James Wegmann, Sasse’s former Senate communications director, is UF’s new vice president for communications.

In the position, Wegmann leads UF Strategic Communications and Marketing. The office exists to “protect and advance the reputation of UF, and to enrich the value and impact of the University by unifying its voice,” according to its website.

Wegmann replaced Steve Orlando, who served as interim vice president for communications during the transition from former UF president Kent Fuchs’ administration to Sasse’s. Orlando, who has worked in UF media relations since 1996, made $270,000 per year in the position. 

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Comparatively, Wegmann has a starting annual salary of $432,000, according to his UF employment contract. 

Orlando will return to his previous position as associate vice president for communications and will continue to serve as the university’s spokesman, according to the Sept. 26 press release.

Wegmann has “[spent] more than a decade as a strategist and communicator in the federal government,” Sasse wrote in the Sept. 26 press release. “During his time in policy, politics, and communications, he’s developed a track record of seeing around corners, separating signal from noise, and simplifying complex arguments.”

Wegmann, a Hillsdale College alum, worked for Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN). 

He began working for Sasse as communications director during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014. After Sasse was elected, Wegmann became his press secretary. He was promoted in 2016 to communications director, a position he maintained until Sasse’s resignation from the Senate in January.

In 2022, Wegmann’s last full year working for Sasse’s Senate office, he had an annual salary of $181,677.

In March, one month after Sasse left the Senate to become UF president, Wegmann received an offer to become a transition adviser in the President’s office for a starting annual salary of $435,000.

The offer stipulated that: “Upon completion of this temporary appointment, your employment with the University of Florida will cease. You may, however, choose to seek other job opportunities with the University of Florida.”

The Alligator asked UF whether Wegmann accepted UF’s initial employment offer, and the university did not comment.

Raymond Sass

Raymond Sass, Sasse’s former Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate, is UF’s inaugural vice president for innovation and partnerships.

“In that role, Sass will focus on strategic value creation for the university, at speed, to improve student learning and life-change,” Sasse wrote in the Sept. 26 press release. “He also will work to leverage technology and partnerships to improve measurable outcomes across a wide variety of initiatives.”

Like Wegmann, Sass (no relation to Sasse) has over a decade of experience in the federal government. 

Sass became the speechwriter for the secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2005. Four years later, he was promoted to chief of staff to the assistant secretary for Planning and Evaluation. 

Coincidentally, Sasse served as counselor to the secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from Dec. 2006 to Dec. 2007.

Sass became Director of the MBA Program at Midland University while Sasse was the school’s president. After Sasse left the university for the Senate in 2014, Sass was promoted to vice president of Strategy for Midland.

In 2017, Sass returned to work for Sasse in his Senate office as chief of staff.

Sass made $181,677 in his final year working for Sasse in the Senate, according to LegiStorm.

As UF’s vice president for innovation and partnerships, Sass has a starting annual salary of $396,000.

He will work for UF remotely from Maryland, The Alligator confirmed.

Sass, like Wegmann, received an offer from UF in March to become a transition adviser in the President’s office. 

The Alligator asked UF whether Sass accepted UF’s initial employment offer, and the university did not comment.

Faculty leaders are optimistic, skeptical of Sasse’s hires

UF faculty representatives expressed both support and concerns about “cronyism” regarding Sasse’s hires.

UF Faculty Senate Chair Danaya Wright said Wegmann and Sass are both qualified for their positions at the university.

Wegmann and Sass’ high salaries are hopefully indicative of pay increases for “high-performing faculty and staff to comparable levels,” Wright wrote in a statement to The Alligator. “I think it is great that [Sasse] is paying them so well since it shows he understands that it is necessary to pay high-performing employees well in order to attract and retain them.”

“At the same time,” she wrote. “I hope that he looks deeply and creatively around UF and realizes that there are highly qualified and capable people already here who have experience in higher education and a deep knowledge of the history of UF and that he also promotes them to similarly well-paying positions.”

Meera Sitharam, president of UF’s faculty union, expressed skepticism surrounding Wegmann and Sass’ hiring processes. 

Top-level positions funded by public money have to be advertised “widely and openly” and “multiple applicants — even if they are solicited — must be screened and compared to be able to justify the statement that ‘top talent’ is being recruited,” according to Sitharam.

“Otherwise, there is no other name for it except cronyism,” Sitharam said.

Contact Garrett Shanley at Follow him on Twitter @garrettshanley.

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Garrett Shanley

Garrett Shanley is a third-year journalism and history major and The Alligator's Fall 2023 university administration reporter. In his free time, Garrett can be found watching Wong Kar-Wai movies and brooding.

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