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Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse could be the University of Florida's new president

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse would like to be the next president of the University of Florida. The school's search committee would like the same. But there are students at the University of Florida who do not want that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho. Ben Sasse has got to go.

PFEIFFER: About 300 students protested outside a campus event where Sasse took questions on Monday. Student organizations have criticized his conservative political positions, particularly his stance against gay marriage. Makiya Seminera was at the protest yesterday. She's editor-in-chief of the University of Florida's independent newspaper, The Alligator. Makiya, welcome to the show.

MAKIYA SEMINERA: Hi. Thanks for having me.

PFEIFFER: We're glad to have you. Describe for us what you saw yesterday.

SEMINERA: Yeah. So the student forum was pretty much packed, maybe a few seats left open. And about 20 to 25 minutes before the student forum was supposed to end, we start to hear chanting from outside the door. People start banging on the walls outside of the forum's door, stomping in unison because the protest that was originally outside Emerson Hall had moved inside the building. And about 300 protesters had now moved right outside the doors, but they were remaining shut.

PFEIFFER: And did that forum actually end early due to the protesters? I think I might have read something about this.

SEMINERA: Yes. So the forum did end about 15 minutes early. Senator Sasse and Lauren Lemasters, who is the student body president, who was moderating - they both left. And at that point, the doors were opened. And about 300 protesters surged in and kind of took control of the room and were chanting.

PFEIFFER: We mentioned gay marriage. What are the main things student protesters are upset about?

SEMINERA: Yes. So gay marriage, I would say, is probably the main point that I've heard from speaking with protesters that day and in the days before. Specifically, Senator Sasse has said in the past, after Obergefell v. Hodges, which is the Supreme Court case that federally protects the right to same-sex marriage - he called that a disappointment. So that statement has kind of resonated with a lot of people as being, you know, concerning to them. I think a main point also is just his status as a senator. A lot of people are unhappy that he's a politician. Based on social media and based on some concerns that I've, you know, heard from some sources, it's very likely that a decent amount of the student body is is upset with this.

PFEIFFER: It's unlikely that the entire student body is uniform in its thinking. Have you heard from any students who are happy about Sasse being picked as a potential president?

SEMINERA: Yes. So we have spoken to some conservative groups on campus who are content with Senator Sasse's sole finalist status. We spoke with the UF College Republicans, who put out a statement and said that they are, you know, largely happy with Senator Sasse being the sole finalist, and they've pointed to his academic background. He has served as a president at a small university in Nebraska.

PFEIFFER: What has Senator Sasse himself said about the protest?

SEMINERA: So Senator Sasse did address the protest in the moment, kind of in jest. He took it with - in stride. He made a joke about how they were chanting in rhythm. But he did say at the forum when the protesters were outside the door that although he does not agree with the protesters, he agrees with their constitutional right to be able to protest. Other than that, we haven't personally seen any statements from Senator Sasse about the protest.

PFEIFFER: That's Makiya Seminera, editor-in-chief of The Alligator, the University of Florida independent student newspaper. Makaya, thank you.

SEMINERA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.