Despite Administration Reversal, Faculty Suit against U of Florida Goes Forward

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tags: voting rights, academic freedom, University of Florida

Backing down completely from its earlier refusal to let three professors serve as expert witnesses in a voting rights case against the state, the University of Florida said Friday the professors may participate, even if they’re paid. In a partial concession to the professors and the university’s growing list of critics, the university had already said the professors could testify if they did so pro bono.

In announcing the full reversal, Florida president Kent Fuchs also said he’d appointed a task force and charged it with recommending how the university should respond “when employees request approval to serve as expert witnesses in litigation in which their employer, the state of Florida, is a party.” Fuchs set a preliminary recommendation deadline of Nov. 29. (Fuchs had already announced he was forming a task force to review the university’s general conflict-of-interest policy, which was last updated a year ago.)

The three professors of political science who’d asked to be involved in the voting rights case -- Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel A. Smith -- responded to Fuchs with their own announcement: they’re suing him, Provost Joe Glover and the university’s Board of Trustees, in federal court for violating the First Amendment.

While the university changed course in this particular case, “apparently as a matter of discretion,” the lawsuit says, the “unconstitutional policy” on conflict of interest that blocked them from testifying in the first place remains in effect. To this point, the lawsuit names multiple other university professors who have recently revealed that the university denied their own requests to offer expert opinions in legal challenges to other state laws, including one involving Florida’s ban on mask mandates in schools.

UF had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

The university’s faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida, welcomed both the university’s reversal and the lawsuit. Prior to news of both Friday, the union held a news conference to show its support for Austin, McDonald and Smith, for whom it said it had been advocating internally since mid-October, when it learned of the blocked requests.


Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed