Education amid endless online screaming

President Ben Sasse
November 20, 2023

Cabinet and Deans - 

Just wanted you to know that I’ve gotten many versions of this allegation all weekend: 

A tenured UF professor is supposedly forcing despicable antisemitic garbage on UF students in UF classrooms. This seems to have started from a member of the legislature in Tallahassee exaggerating on social media and sharing too-good-to-be-checked clickbait that he knows isn’t true.

I won’t link here to the thirsty, attention-desperate post. But for our shared understanding, the claim is wrong on multiple counts:

  • The individual in question does not work for UF.
  • This was an instructor, not a tenured professor.
  • The individual left UF in 2019, and hasn’t been paid here for four years.
  • The antisemitic drivel was shared on social media, not in any UF classroom. 

In short, the First Amendment gives everyone the right to make an abject idiot of themselves, and that seems to be what this former instructor is doing here. So what to do?

There are some benefits to social media, but over time we’re surely going to acknowledge its big downsides. Too much social media rots people’s brains and entices folks to grandstanding stupidity.  One of the temptations of our time is to give online screamers exactly the attention they want for their online screaming. Lots of the faux-fighters drawing extra attention to online idiocy are accomplishing nothing that makes the world a better place. Instead they are just fanning extra oxygen to shrill nonsense.

That said, all of the hyperbolic drama of the last 72 hours does at least provide a helpful opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the fundamentals we believe here at the University of Florida: 


  1. Education happens when someone engages new ideas. Indoctrination happens when someone enforces political orthodoxy. It’s not our job to indoctrinate – it is our job to educate.
  2. Classrooms are for engaging important ideas with humility and compassion.
  3. In the classroom, when we engage ideas, we start by recognizing the dignity of every person. (This universal dignity is exactly what terrorists like Hamas reject.)
  4. Believing in human dignity means we reject the kind of victimology that reduces individuals solely to group identities, and ignores big ideas like responsibility, grace, and improvement. Victimology lacks explanatory power for most interesting questions, but as importantly, victimology strips humans of our dignity and agency.
  5. Speech is protected; violence and vandalism are not. We’ll protect everyone’s speech rights here. But we’ll absolutely take action to suspend or fire anyone in the UF community who crosses the line with violence or vandalism.
  6. Academic freedom is protected. Political activism in taxpayer-funded classes is not. Tenure is an important tool that confers prestige on the most prized, foundational members of a university community. But it is a long-term employment contract. It is not freedom from accountability, nor is it license to substitute activism for inquiry, deliberation, and genuine education.

Our professors have the high and special calling of shepherding our students into engagement with hard issues inside the classroom. But that’s very different than activists using public dollars to enforce ideology.

We aspire toward a world of Gators with sharp minds and open hearts. That’s what we believe here at UF. That’s how we’ll keep moving forward together. 

Have a great day,