When U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse returns to the University of Florida to interview for the president’s job soon, the school will be enforcing an old regulation that bans protests inside campus buildings.
The move, announced Monday by outgoing president Kent Fuchs, comes after Sasse’s first visit to campus on Oct. 10 was interrupted by a large group of protesters. Their shouts drowned out a moderated forum with students and moved Sasse’s scheduled session with staff to virtual mode after protesters took over the ballroom where he was speaking.
Fuchs said the regulation would be enforced to protect the rights of those who want to hear presentations surrounding the presidential search. On Nov. 1, Sasse, the lone finalist for the position, will appear before the UF board of trustees for a formal, public interview.
“We have not enforced this policy in recent years because in the rare cases that protesters entered buildings, they were respectful of others and their rights to speak and to hear,” Fuchs wrote in an email message to the university community.
The regulation also states “demonstrations may be held anywhere on the campus, so long as they do not disrupt the normal operation of the University or infringe on the rights of other members of the University community” and that “use of sound amplification equipment on the outdoor areas of campus must have prior clearance.”
The email said students who the break the rule may be subject to discipline under the Student Conduct Code.
“I want to be clear that the university holds sacred the right to free speech, and I strongly encourage you to exercise it,” Fuchs wrote. “It is a blessing that distinguishes our great country from many others around the world, and as many from those other countries will tell you, we must protect it vigorously.”
The message continued: “Ours is a large university where conversation, civil discourse and dissent are all a regular and needed part of campus life. I pray that we will continue to find ways to express ourselves civilly and listen to those who disagree with us or who we find disagreeable — and ensure that all others can do the same.”
Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.