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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Sasse shares his vision for UF’s future at presidential inauguration

UF inaugurated the former U.S. senator as its 13th president

Ben Sasse delivers his inauguration speech at the University Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.
Ben Sasse delivers his inauguration speech at the University Auditorium on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

After nine months on the job, UF President Ben Sasse was officially inaugurated as the university’s 13th president.

Hundreds gathered in the hallowed halls of University Auditorium Nov. 2 to celebrate the former U.S. senator’s official transition to president.

In his inaugural address, Sasse emphasized the importance of civil discourse, service and UF’s need to advance itself into the digital revolution.

“Too much of higher education wants to resist change, too many institutions are complacent,” Sasse said. “This place has somehow been relatively insulated against complacency and self-satisfaction and that’s darn attractive.”

Sasse shared his hopes for the university to become the nation’s model for higher education. 

“I truly believe that there is no single institution in the nation better positioned to simultaneously question the old with humility and embrace the new with an entrepreneurial zest about partnering more and faster,” he said.

He also wants to accelerate the support and hiring processes for research teams in the university, he said.

In a press gaggle directly after the ceremony, Sasse addressed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent order to Florida universities to disband chapters of pro-Palestinian student groups and the university’s secretive $4.7 million contract with the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Sasse avoided directly answering a question about whether McKinsey’s report would be made public but did say the firm would continue to be a part of the university’s strategic planning process over the coming year.

In response to the State University System memo ordering universities to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, Sasse said he is a First Amendment defender and will protect free speech on campus.

“All student organizations at the University of Florida that were in place before [the SUS’ memo] are still in place now,” Sasse said.

Inauguration special guests included Scott Angle, UF’s interim provost; Ray Rodrigues, chancellor of the State University System; Mori Hosseini, chair of the UF Board of Trustees; Bernie Machen, the 11th former UF president; Kent Fuchs, the 12th former UF president; Jason Kelly, the CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-centered synthetic bioworks company; Gerard Duncan, a senior pastor at Prayers by Faith Family Ministries and Kevin Thorpe, a pastor at Faith Ministry Baptist Church. 

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Sasse described his appointment to the presidency as “glorious serendipity.” He wasn’t seeking out a university presidency, he said, but was persuaded by Hosseini and Board of Trustees Chair Rahul Patel, who led the presidential search committee.

Hosseini said UF’s 13th president had to be “outside the box” to accelerate the speed of change.

“We found that and we stole him from the United States Senate,” Hosseini said.

Amid growing skepticism of higher education, Hosseini said UF remains influential among students and the country.

“We change lives, we educate the next generation of leaders, innovators and explorers,” he said. “We make this state and this nation a better place. Florida is well-positioned to lead, that’s why we chose President Sasse.”

Sasse’s inauguration in-person audience mainly consisted of UF alumni, faculty, and Florida higher education officials and politicians. However, some UF students opted to watch the livestream.

Oscar Santiago Perez, a 21-year-old UF political science senior, watched the inauguration via livestream in disdain.

Sasse spoke about the importance of committing to “radical transparency” during his inaugural address, which Santiago Perez disagreed with.

“I’ve not seen any sort of radical transparency in these nine months,” they said. “If this radical transparency were in place, I’d expect the administration to be ahead of the curve and inform us about the processes that are occurring.”

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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