Days after the University of Florida’s board of trustees selected U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse as the school’s next president, student leaders are poised to impeach the student body president who voted for the Nebraska politician.
Their formal resolution, dated Wednesday, alleges that Lauren LeMasters, who serves on the UF Board of Trustees as part of her student government role, neglected her duty to represent the student voice. The document was presented to LeMasters and Student Senate President Olivia Green on Thursday.
LeMasters could not be reached for comment.
Many UF students strongly opposed the prospect of Sasso’s presidency in the weeks after he was named the sole finalist for the job, with concerns surrounding his stance against same-sex marriage.
During Sasse’s first visit to campus on Oct. 10, hundreds of students packed Emerson Alumni Hall as LeMasters spoke with him at a forum in the building’s ballroom.
The Student Senate — a body of 100 elected senators representing more than 50,000 students — passed a vote of no confidence in LeMasters last month for her role on the election committee in choosing Sasse and urged her to vote against it at Tuesday’s board meeting to confirm him.
Protesters showed up during LeMasters’ office hours, voicing their concerns about Sasse, highlighting his record on LGBTQ issues and his impact, including on students. Before the final vote at the trustees’ meeting Tuesday, the majority of public comments, many from students, opposed Sasse’s selection, and dozens of others protested outside.
However, LeMasters voted for Sasse, helping to make the vote unanimous.
“I want to start by thanking you throughout this process for your candor and willingness to listen not only to me, but also to the students’ concerns and desires regarding the next president,” she told Sasse during trustees’ comments before the vote. “You showed when I needed some alone time to discuss with you how our students were feeling, you were open to it.”
She added that Sasse will have a “hill of trust” to climb, echoing the words of Oscar Santiago Pérez, a student senator and PRIDE member, who spoke earlier.
“I look forward to seeing you all ready to sit down and listen and learn from these students: to hear their problems, to hear their big ideas, to really unite our university in moving forward and to treat them with dignity, respect and care.” – said Lemasters. “Now it’s up to you to follow through.”
Sasse has acknowledged opposition to his position several times in recent weeks, but has said he will accept and respect all people as UF president and go beyond the positions he has taken as a politician.
According to the resolution, written by six members of the student senate’s minority party and signed by 17 others, Lemasters’ vote was a felony.
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The resolution cites the student body bylaws, which state that the president must not “lose the confidence of his elected colleagues in (Student Government) in their ability to have an effective voice to represent their constituents” or “create a reasonable fear that the conduct may be repeated during the powers of an official (student self-government).”
This indicted Lemasters “The blatant disregard for the request of the student body that she directly reported.”
Gabriela Montes, Deputy Leader of the Minority Party and author of the resolution, said the decision to file it was not taken lightly.
“Impeachment is a relative extreme,” she said. “However, it got to a point where after seeing the effort the students put into the protest and seeing that their voice was loud, bold and very clear, it wasn’t that difficult to make a decision.”
Senior members of LeMasters’ majority party also condemned her vote, including Daniel Baldell, vice president of the student body, and Green, senate president. Boldell issued a statement on Instagram, as first reported by the Independent Alligator, saying he can’t “sit by idly” when “someone who is a threat to the LGBTQ+ community is about to take the highest office on campus.”
Faith Corbett, the minority leader and author of the resolution, said she believed the vote was self-serving and that LeMasters had not done enough to elicit student opinions, such as holding public forums or seeking student input.
“She saw it from the perspective of what I think happened behind closed doors,” Corbett said. “Yes, it’s hard to account for 60,000 students, but I think if you have an active group of students protesting, the least you can do for the student body is to abstain.”
Santiago Perez, a member of the minority party who spoke at the trustees meeting, said he supported the resolution. “I believe this is the natural culmination of the student body president neglecting his duty to represent the student body,” he said.
The next steps in the process will be a hearing where LeMasters will have the opportunity to defend his actions.
The Senate will be divided into two parts – the impeachment body headed by the President of the Senate and the judicial body. If two-thirds of the impeachment body votes in favor of impeachment, LeMasters will be suspended pending the conclusion of the trial, and the student body vice president will serve as president. For LeMasters to be formally removed from office, a vote of three-quarters of the members of the court is required.
As the senator representing the College of Arts and Sciences, Montes said she feels the overwhelming sentiment of students regarding the search has not been listened to.
“I hope people understand the implications of endorsing someone like Dr. Ben Sass,” she said. “Acknowledging the fact that students now feel threatened only underscores that students will continue to feel threatened.”
Divya Kumar is a higher education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.
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