campus beat

Sasse: UF will ‘protect’ free speech but won’t back ‘political activism’ in classrooms

The former Nebraska senator was responding to accusations that the University of Florida employed a professor who was teaching antisemitic content

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) questions witnesses during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on February 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. T

University of Florida President Ben Sasse distanced the school from accusations that a professor was promoting antisemitic content — which Sasse said was “wrong on multiple counts” — and reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to “protect everyone’s speech rights” while denouncing “political activism in taxpayer-funded classes.”

“Just wanted you to know that I’ve gotten many versions of this allegation all weekend,” Sasse wrote in a letter to the Gainesville school’s cabinet and deans. “A tenured UF professor is supposedly forcing despicable antisemitic garbage on UF students in UF classrooms. This seems to have started from a member of the legislature in Tallahassee exaggerating on social media and sharing too-good-to-be-checked clickbait that he knows isn’t true. I won’t link here to the thirsty, attention-desperate post. But for our shared understanding, the claim is wrong on multiple counts.” 

Sasse noted that the individual in question “does not work for UF and was an instructor, not a tenured professor.” Furthermore, he said the “individual left UF in 2019, and hasn’t been paid here for four years and the antisemitic drivel was shared on social media, not in any UF classroom.” 

The letter continued, “In short, the First Amendment gives everyone the right to make an abject idiot of themselves, and that seems to be what this former instructor is doing here. So what to do? There are some benefits to social media, but over time we’re surely going to acknowledge its big downsides. Too much social media rots people’s brains and entices folks to grandstanding stupidity.”  

“One of the temptations of our time,” Sasse continued, “is to give online screamers exactly the attention they want for their online screaming. Lots of the faux-fighters drawing extra attention to online idiocy are accomplishing nothing that makes the world a better place. Instead they are just fanning extra oxygen to shrill nonsense.”

Sasse also outlined “the fundamentals we believe here at the University of Florida.”

“Education happens when someone engages new ideas,” Sasse wrote. “Indoctrination happens when someone enforces political orthodoxy. It’s not our job to indoctrinate – it is our job to educate.”

Sasse’s statement comes amid skyrocketing rates of antisemitism on college campuses around the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas. 

Sasse was among the first university presidents to condemn the Oct. 7 terror attacks. “I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard,” Sasse wrote on Oct. 10 in an email to students and alumni at UF, where nearly 20% of undergraduates are Jewish.

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