U. of Florida Dean Says He Was Directed to Reject Professor’s Request to Testify Against the State

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tags: voting rights, academic freedom, University of Florida

The University of Florida dean who rejected a political scientist’s request to offer expert testimony because it may “pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida” said this week that his decision was made at the direction of senior administrators.

Daniel A. Smith, Michael McDonald, and Sharon Wright Austin, all UF scholars, were each told in October that they would not be allowed to be expert witnesses in a voting-rights lawsuit against the state. News of the rejections provoked international outcry, and a week later the university reversed course.

David E. Richardson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, handled Smith’s request, and on Monday, he shed new light about his involvement in the controversy at the fall meeting of the CLAS Assembly, a shared-governance group.

His remarks suggest that the decision to bar professors from testifying against the state may have come from the top of UF. And it comes amid persistent questions about how the campus thrust itself into the center of a fiery debate about the limits of academic freedom.

At the meeting, which was recorded, Richardson showed faculty members a chart outlining how outside activities are reviewed for approval at the university. Sometimes, according to the chart, the president’s cabinet is consulted.

Because Smith is chair of the political-science department, his request was sent to Richardson, his dean. Richardson told faculty members that after he got Smith’s request, he “inquired” with central administration, because in the case for which Smith’s testimony was sought, the defendant was an “officer or an official of the state government.” Richardson sent along the information, which was “subsequently reviewed,” said the dean, and he was informed that “UF policy on this had been formulated, and it was passed to me to implement.” Richardson was “effectively informed that the UF policy would be for me to disapprove” Smith’s request, the dean said.


Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education