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The Attack on University of Florida Professors is Totalitarian

Roundup
tags: Florida, voting rights, academic freedom, Ron DeSantis



Silke-Maria Weineck is a professor of German and comparative literature at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

It’s rarely a good sign if you find yourself wondering how to translate certain German words: Gleichschaltung, for instance, or vorauseilender Gehorsam. But reading the news out of the University of Florida, where two administrators informed three faculty members that they were not permitted to testify as expert witnesses in a court challenge to Florida’s voter-suppression laws, will send you down that road.

Gleichschaltung is the process by which institutions are brought under the control of totalitarian ideology. It is frequently rendered as “coordination” or “synchronization,” but those terms lack the terrifying connotation of switches flipped, one by one, until the same ideological current flows through every previously independent institution.

Vorauseilender Gehorsam means “obedience ahead of the command.” The Yale historian Timothy Snyder translates it as “anticipatory obedience,” and that is close enough, but it doesn’t quite capture the scurrying servility implied in “vorauseilen,” to hurry ahead.

We don’t know on whose orders David E. Richardson, dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, rejected the request of Daniel A. Smith, chair of its political-science department, to testify as an expert witness in the voting-rights case; or on whose orders Gary Wimsett, UF’s assistant vice president for conflicts of interest, rejected the requests of Michael McDonald, who studies national elections, and Sharon Wright Austin, who studies the political behavior of African Americans, to do the same. All three faculty members had previously testified as expert witnesses against the state in other cases, and the university had never declared them to be subject to conflicts of interest.

Unless we want to believe that two different administrators independently invented the same policy from scratch and presented it in near-identical terms, we have to conclude that Richardon and Wimsett acted on orders from above. The notion that they simply anticipated such orders is, in some regards, even worse. Whatever the truth of the matter, we do know that Richardson wrote that “outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.” And Wimsett wrote in an email filed with court documents:“UF will deny its employees’ requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests. As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.”

Whether they got their orders from the trustees, the president, the provost, or from Gov. Ron DeSantis or one of his minions will emerge in due course. But no matter where the directive originated, both men should have refused to carry it out. They should instead have offered their resignations. You do not obey such commands, you do not hurry ahead to destroy your university’s reputation at the bidding of an authoritarian regime.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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