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Students protest University of Florida presidential finalist Ben Sasse’s visit to school

<i>Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire</i><br/>Students protest at the University of Florida as Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska talks during a UF Students Open Forum on October 10
Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire
Students protest at the University of Florida as Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska talks during a UF Students Open Forum on October 10

By Amanda Musa, Jennifer Henderson and David Williams, CNN

Students at the University of Florida protested the visit of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska — the likely new president of the university — to the school Monday.

Students protested Sasse during an open forum on the university’s campus in Gainesville on Monday afternoon, according to the university’s newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator. Sasse plans to resign from the Senate by the end of the year to take a job as the president of the University of Florida, CNN reported last week

Sasse was scheduled to host three open forums Monday afternoon, according to the university’s website.

According to the Independent Florida Alligator, Sasse left a forum about 15 minutes early at which point about 300 protesters entered the ballroom where the event was taking place.

Protesters called Sasse homophobic and racist, The Independent Florida Alligator reported.

In one of the three forums held during the day, Sasse discused his stance on LGBTQ+ rights after he condemned the US Supreme Court decision that guaranteed same-sex marriage at the federal level in 2015. The Independent Florida Gator quoted him a saying that the decision was “the law of the land,” adding that it wasn’t going to change in the near future.

“Your question is: Do I support and affirm everybody in this community?” Sasse said in response to another question Monday, according to the student newspaper. “Absolutely.”

When asked about promoting diversity at the university, Sasse was quoted as saying, “I want us to figure it out by listening to our community and our conversation, who is not feeling included and how do we tackle those problems and reduce those barriers.”

Video obtained by CNN shows protesters chanting “Hey hey. Ho ho. Ben Sasse has got to go,” during Sasse’s visit.

Last week, the university’s presidential search committee voted unanimously to name Sasse as its sole finalist for president of the university, a source told CNN. Sasse would replace Kent Fuchs, who is leaving the position after eight years to become a professor at the school.

Sasse was president of Midland University, a Lutheran liberal arts school in Nebraska, before his election to the Senate in 2014.

Ethan Eibe is a sophomore at the University of Florida who was covering the protest for the Independent Florida Alligator. He told CNN that he talked to several people who participated in the protest.

“Many are concerned with Sasse’s past comments that show he is not in favor of same-sex marriage and abortion. When it comes to a community as diverse as UF, students overall don’t feel he is a good fit,” Eibe told CNN Monday. “They consider him a political appointee essentially. They believe it’s a bad look on the board of trustees that named him the sole finalist out of 700 candidates.”

The University of Florida would not comment on Sasse’s visit to the school Monday.

Meanwhile, CNN has reached out to Sasse’s office but has not received a response.

According to the university’s handbook, the president serves as the chief executive officer of the school and oversees all university activities.

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