Sen. Ben Sasse, the lone runner-up for president at the University of Florida, met with protesters and posed questions to skeptics during a campus visit Monday.

Videos and images shared online showed protesters massed near one of the public forums held on Gainesville campuses, shouting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ben Sasse has to go!”

Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, answered questions about LGBTQ rights and academic freedom, among other topics, at the forums, according to reports.

As a U.S. senator, Sasse held many conservative posts during his years in Washington. In 2015, he lamented the historic Supreme Court decision in Oberfell v. Hodges which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

On Monday, Sasse was asked at a student forum about his commitment to protecting the LGBTQ community, according to the Independent Florida Alligator student newspaper.

“Your question is, do I support and affirm everyone in this community?” Sasse responded, according to the student newspaper. “Absolutely.”

Sasse sought to distinguish between his current role as an elected partisan and what his future role would be as an academic leader. “One of the appealing things about this, frankly, is the opportunity to take a step back from politics,” Sasse said.

He was named last week as the sole finalist to become the 13th president of the university of 56,000 students. The board is expected to vote on the nomination soon.

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Sasse holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in history from Yale University and served as president of Midland University, a private Lutheran institution in Nebraska with about 1,700 students, before to be elected to the Senate in 2014. He was re-elected in 2020 but plans to step down if his nomination to the University of Florida is approved.

Controversy erupted after Sasse became the only finalist without notice to the campus community. Skeptics wondered if he would support academic freedom for professors who don’t share his political views.

The university has been a culture war battleground over the past year, with controversy erupting over accusations that Governor Ron DeSantis (R) tried to exert undue influence on its operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. Its current chairman, W. Kent Fuchs, announced in January that he would step down when a successor was named.

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Sarah Brown, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, reported on Sasse’s appearance in Gainesville through tweets.

In a tweet, Brown wrote, “Universities are against indoctrination, Sasse said, and so are great professors. He said that as a historian, he cannot imagine teaching history without fighting slavery and racism as America’s original sin. “It’s different from indoctrination in a specific theory.” ”

In another tweet, Brown wrote, “Sasse also spoke (again) about how he views his role as head storyteller, salesman, and cheerleader. Being president of the UF is not about his political positions, he said.

Sasse sought to portray himself as a gatekeeper to the institution, according to the Alligator, in response to a question about whether he would support the job protection measure known as tenure.

“I will be a zealous defender of tenure,” he told the student newspaper. “Tenance is an extremely important tool in a large research university like this.”

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