U.S. Senator Ben Sasse poses for a photo in the U.S. Capitol.
Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Photo courtesy Ben Sasse

Sen. Ben Sasse plans to resign from the U.S. Senate later this year to join the University of Florida as its next president, leaving Congress after he was first elected in 2014.

The University of Florida announced on Thursday, Oct. 6, that Sasse is their finalist to replace outgoing President Kent Fuchs. Sasse would become the university’s 13th president, a role he had at Midland University in Nebraska for five years from 2010 to 2014.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sasse earned his Ph.D. from Yale University and later taught at Yale and the University of Texas at Austin. Midland has about 1,500 students, while the University of Florida has more than 50,000.

In a Twitter statement, Sasse, a Republican who was reelected in 2020, said the University of Florida is “uniquely positioned to lead this country through an era of disruption,” adding the country’s single biggest challenge is this disruption of work.

The senator said he has been pursued by multiple institutions in the past two years but had resisted being named a finalist.

“This time is different because the University of Florida is very different: I think Florida is the most interesting university in America right now,” Sasse said in his statement. “UF is the most important institution in the nation’s most economically dynamic state.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts would be charged with appointing Sasse’s replacement, who would fill the role until at least January 2025. Sasse’s resignation would trigger a special election in 2024, alongside Nebraska’s other Senate seat, for the remaining two years of Sasse’s term.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Sasse’s selection would be different than previous presidents, who have mostly come from administrative ranks of top universities in the United States. 

“Though his academic credentials are significant, his presidency would be part of an increasing impulse toward choosing politicians for the role,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote.

Rahul Patel, a member of the University of Florida’s board of trustees who chaired the search committee, told the Tampa Bay Times their process was robust and had conducted several listening sessions where Sasse’s name emerged.

“The feedback was, for us to take the next step to truly becoming one of the most important universities in the country, we will need a visionary, an innovator and big thinker who would differentiate us from others — a leader who is transformational,” Patel said. “The committee unanimously felt Ben Sasse is a transformational leader.”

Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, told the Tampa Bay Times the governor approved of the pick.

“As a successful former university president, national leader and deep thinker on education policy, Ben Sasse has the qualifications and would be a good candidate,” he said.

Sasse has been considered a future contender for U.S. president and faced backlash from his political party for clashing with former President Donald Trump. This includes being one of seven to vote for Trump’s conviction in connection to the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021. Sasse has served on the Senate’s intelligence, judiciary, finance and budget committees.

Sasse said Washington partisanship won’t solve workforce challenges, and new institutions and entrepreneurial communities will have to pick up that work.

“If UF wants to go big, I’m excited about the wide range of opportunities,” Sasse said. “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 will visit the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Florida, on Monday, Oct. 10, to meet with the campus community. The university’s trustees will then interview him on campus on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.