Sen. Ben Sasse listens to public comments during a University of Florida board of trustees meeting.
Sen. Ben Sasse listens to public comments during a University of Florida board of trustees meeting on Nov. 1, where he was selected as the school's next president. The state Board of Governors confirmed the pick on Wednesday at its meeting in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The state Board of Governors confirmed U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as the University of Florida’s next president on Wednesday, approving a five-year contract that will start in February with the possibility of a one-year extension.

The board’s student member, Nimna Gabadage of Florida State University, was the lone vote in opposition.

The board, which oversees the State University System, also voted to pay Sasse a base salary of $1 million year, increasing it up to 4% each year depending on his ability to accomplish long- and short-term goals. Sasse will earn an additional $200,000 for each year he completes on the job, plus up to 15% of his base salary if he meets performance goals set by the university.

He could earn up to $1.35 million in his first year and nearly $1.6 million in his sixth year if his contract is extended.

The contract also states the board may terminate Sasse without cause “upon providing written notice of such termination,” and he would be assigned to other duties at the university at his base pay.

As part of the agreement, Sasse said he pledged not to speak at any partisan political events during his presidency and will freeze his political committee and fund accounts. He said he also wouldn’t be a surrogate for any political candidate. He plans to resign soon from the U.S. Senate.

Board of Governors member Charles Lydecker, who sat on the UF presidential search committee, said he saw the pick as one that will elevate the entire university system. UF board of trustees Chairperson Mori Hosseini said he and his fellow trustees believed Sasse was the right UF leader for this time.

Sasse, who attended the meeting virtually because of Tropical Storm Nicole, spoke of his vision for the university. “We aspire for Gainesville to be the center of a revolution for higher education in America,” he said.

Board member Tim Cerio asked Sasse how, as a supporter of free speech, he would address opposition to his selection. He noted that the faculty senate leader and the student body president who voted for him both face consequences — a vote of no confidence for the faculty member and an impeachment proceeding for the student.

“It’s important to recognize we live in a time where the subset of folk that are angriest get the most attention,” Sasse responded. “It’s very important for us to recognize speech is not violence. … One of the great uses of speech is so that we can have less violence.”

The board’s student member, Gabadage, who is from Tampa, asked Sasse what steps he would take to create an inclusive community at UF. In recent weeks during the selection process, the Nebraska politician faced fierce criticism over his stance against same-sex marriage.

Sasse said he planned to spend time getting to know the community with “tireless passion.” He reiterated his belief that every individual has “immeasurable and universal dignity” and said he will meet with the LGBTQ advisory committee at UF. He also plans to keep outgoing President Kent Fuchs as an adviser.

Rahul Patel, the UF trustee who led the presidential search, previously said the process was robust and that search committee members spoke to hundreds of “prospects” before narrowing the list to 12. Nine of those were sitting presidents of major universities and half were women and/or people of color, he said. None wished to move forward in the process unless they were named the sole finalist, he said.

The university has since released more information on the 739 prospects the search committee considered. The list included 422 white men, 218 white women, 32 Black men, 23 Black women, 20 Hispanic men, 8 Hispanic women, 10 Asian men and 6 Asian women.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.