Oil and Water: Campus Marxists Protest New University of Florida President Ben Sasse
A freshman, a graduate assistant, and a political party walked into a university’s administration building — er, actually, around 100 of them did. But it’s not a dry twist on the old bar joke; the tense moment really took place Monday at Tigert Hall, administration headquarters for the University of Florida in Gainesville. The protest was scheduled to coincide with former Senator Ben Sasse’s first day as the new university president.
The UF chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) helped organize a protest outside Tigert Hall, beginning at 2 p.m. Protestors distributed, to a crowd of students, professors, and alumni, handmade signs that demanded Sasse’s departure or vowed to fight reforms. A series of speakers riled up the crowd, using electronic amplification equipment positioned outside the administration building. The crowd chanted a list of five demands, hoping that Sasse would hear.
University security let the protestors inside the building at 3:30 p.m. The ringleaders rattled the door to Sasse’s office, hoping to deliver their demands in person. Either he was not inside, or he is very good at tuning out distractions, because there was no answer. After waiting for an hour, the protestors taped up copies of their demands to his door and the walls of the administration building, and then they left.
Per WCJB, the protestors, which included a graduate assistant union, demanded:
- “Market, equity raises for staff, graduate students, and all UF-affiliated workers …”
- “Publicly disavowing attacks from Tallahassee on academic and free speech”
- “Committing to non-compliance with targeted list-making activities”
- “Maintaining all pre-existing commitments to DEI initiatives,” including that he “continue gender affirming care and … reproduc[tiv]e care”
- “Protecting tenure for UF faculty”
The first item is essentially graduate assistants demanding that their cushy, part-time jobs come with cushy, full-time paychecks.
The other four items would require Sasse to publicly oppose Florida Governor DeSantis’s (R) higher education reform proposals. DeSantis proposed tenure reform to hold professors accountable, proposed cutting off DEI funding to reallocate the money to real education, and required universities to itemize their DEI programs so he would know where to make cuts. The “attacks from Tallahassee on academic and free speech” mostly amount to the Florida state government trying to break the stranglehold Marxist ideology has on the university system, thus injecting true academic freedom into an environment that often stifles it.
University staff removed the demands 15 minutes after the protestors left.
The anti-Sasse protestors made it clear that they opposed his previous career as a senator, rather than his new actions as university president, both by scheduling the protests on Sasse’s first day as president, and by what they said.
“I know of his conservative values, and it makes me nervous for his entrance to the UF community because he is not going to fairly support all voices in our student population,” said Amy Nicholas, a fourth-year student. History professor Paul Ortiz added, “A university president has to be someone who supports all people on campus, not just your political tendency.” Senior Cassie Edmonds complained about Sasse’s past statements on same-sex marriage and abortion, “I just really don’t know how they ended up choosing this racist, homophobic dude from Nebraska.”
Much of the resentment linked back to Sasse’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision, striking down state laws against same-sex marriage.
“Today’s ruling is a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad. The Supreme Court once again overstepped its Constitutional role by acting as a super-legislature and imposing its own definition of marriage on the American people rather than allowing voters to decide in the states.”
The UF chapter of YDSA, which helped organize the protest, wrote, “We are sick and tired of having our rights and freedoms set aflame, and this so-called president hasn’t even started work yet.” Somehow, among all the rights and freedoms they have supposedly lost, these Young Democratic Socialists still retain the right to organize a public protest. Isn’t that curious? They also retain the right to speak freely, even to utter slanderous untruths such as calling Sasse the “so-called” president — an eerie echo of “not my president” — without the shadow of an argument against his legitimacy. They found this tantrum appropriate, yet in the same breath they admitted that Sasse “hasn’t even started work yet.”
Isn’t college supposed to teach young adults how to think?
For his part, UF President Sasse began his new position with a missive to the university that focused on the wide-ranging, big picture for the university, not on political squabbles. “What research problems can we tackle that most inspire you? … How do we ensure that UF graduates are prepared — both qualitatively and with quantitative competence — for a world with shorter-duration work than ever before?” he asked. “How will we harness the power of AI? … What seemingly settled disciplinary and departmental boundaries should be reconsidered?”
Sasse did once allude to political differences obliquely. “How will we champion pluralism, curiosity, viewpoint diversity, open debate, and intellectual rigor for our students and faculty, such that our graduates will be prepared to live and work with people of many points of view?” Progressive students think they already know the answer: by shutting up anyone who disagrees. That makes another of Sasse’s questions more urgent: “How will we make sure Gators are life-long learners?” — especially the ones who already think they know everything.
The student extremists have raged against Sasse ever since he was announced as the University of Florida’s next president. When he came to a public forum in October, hundreds of students disrupted the civil dialogue, forcing it to end early; Sasse then left campus with police protection. “Obviously, I wish they didn’t have the position they had,” said Sasse graciously, “but I strongly support the right of people to protest and exercise their free speech rights.” If only they would extend him the same courtesy.
The angry, young radicals at the University of Florida are about to learn a hard lesson about how the real world works. Unlike their hyper-partisan online silos, in the real world you’ll inevitably encounter people you disagree with, and they don’t go away just because you want them to. Like it or not, Sasse is now serving as the president of the University of Florida, and no amount of chanting and marching is going to change that. In the real world, “cancel culture” comes out looking pathetic and impotent.
“Our kids simply don’t know what an adult is anymore — or how to become one,” Sasse wrote in 2017. Hopefully, as a university president, he can teach them how. But if Sasse was hoping that a top-5 public university would present a less raucous, political, extreme environment than the halls of Congress, he may be disappointed.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.