Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) who is reportedly the “sole finalist” to take over as president of the University of Florida, on Monday was met with loud protests during his first appearance on campus since the news of his potential appointment broke.
Sasse held three separate sessions with university faculty, students and staff on the Gainesville campus.
Protesters gathered outside the room where the student Q&A session was held, chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Ben Sasse has got go.”
Protesters eventually entered the room the meeting was being held in, resulting in the forum ending 15 minutes ahead of schedule, according to the Independent Florida Alligator, the university’s student newspaper.
During the session, Sasse addressed the demonstrations.
“Obviously, I wish they didn’t have the position they have, but I strongly support the right people to protest and exercise their free speech rights,” Sasse said, according to The Hill. “I won’t say I precisely welcome the protesters, but I sort of intellectually and constitutionally welcome the protesters.”
The demonstrations were sparked in part by Sasse’s conservative opinions on issues, including same-sex marriage.
The Nebraska senator called the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex unions, “a disappointment to Nebraskans who understand that marriage brings a wife and husband together so their children can have a mom and dad,” in a statement dated June 26, 2015.
The statement continued: “As a society, we need to celebrate marriage as the best way to provide stability and opportunity for kids.”
Asked on Monday whether he would stand behind the university’s LGBTQ community, Sasse replied: “Your question is: Do I support and affirm everybody in this community? Absolutely.”
Sasse also said the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision “is the law of the land and nothing about Obergefell is changing in the United States.”
During the summer, Sasse celebrated the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“The pro-life movement’s work has just begun,” he said in a statement. “This issue will now be debated in the 50 states, and a 330,000,000-person, continental nation will work through this debate in a way that’s healthier than Roe’s one-size-fits-all, Washington-centrism.”
Asked about his abortion stance, Sasse reportedly said the presidential role does not involve any decisions around the medical procedure, according to The Hill.
Sasse also addressed how he would maintain his commitment to the prospective presidential post and avoid being drawn into politics.
“One of the things that’s appealing about this, frankly, is the opportunity to step back from politics,” Sasse said, according to the Independent Florida Alligator.
Sasse on Thursday emerged as the only finalist in the search to succeed current president W. Kent Fuchs, who announced his resignation in January.
“I’m delighted to be in conversation with the leadership of this special community about how we might together build a vision for UF to be the nation’s most-dynamic, bold, future-oriented university,” Sasse wrote on Twitter.
The university’s Board of Trustees will interview Sasse on Nov. 1. If the board approves his nomination, he will also have to be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors.
If Sasse becomes university president, he will have to resign from the Senate and Nebraska’s governor will appoint a replacement.