UF, seeking status in academia, is blasted by its own faculty leaders
Three UF professors not allowed to testify in a lawsuit to challenge the state’s novel voting law, filed a federal lawsuit, alleging violation of First Amendment rights and desired the court to strike down the policy of stifling faculty dissent against the state. Despite the university reversing an earlier decision and allowing the three Professors from the political science Faculty, to participate in the voting rights lawsuit, on their own time without using school resources. The suit notes that Florida did not prohibit testimony by professors of public universities that favored its viewpoint while preventing other faculty from participating in legal action. Those applications had one thing in common with plaintiffs, as per the lawsuit. They are asking for permission to encourage groups initiating litigation against the state. Faculty members were not employed as mouthpieces for any particular administration’s or hold the administration’s point of view.
The suit comes in spite of the university’s stand earlier in November 2021 to formally allow the professors to take legal action against state. The three professors: Michael McDonald, Daniel Smith and Sharon Austin wanted the University policy to be declared unlawful, and the University debarred from enforcing policies seeking to limit lawful activities that do not appear to align with the then state administration interests. If no action is taken to prevent this, the University will impede the Plaintiffs from serving as expert witnesses which challenge State policies, thus violating the First Amendment. The lawsuit filed in Gainesville federal court, lists UF president, Provost and the University’s Board of Trustees as defendants. It seeks to overturn a policy preventing any employee activity that “affects, or appears to affect, their professional judgment or obligations to the University”. The policy amended July 1, 2020, requires faculty members to seek official permission if they wish to participate in outside activities. The lawsuit mentions that two Professors testified as voting rights experts prior to 2020, including those where the State was a defendant. Now, their requests were denied stating it was not in the best interests of the University.
Against Academic Freedom
UF faculty union calls for boycotts over academic freedom. Hessy Fernandez, a spokesperson for the university, said UF could not comment on pending litigations. The lawsuit took aim at a policy in university which stated that any current employee activity which would affect, or appears to affect, ones professional judgment or obligations to the University” could lead to conflicts. The policy, that was amended on 1st July, 2020, required faculty to file a complaint through a university portal every time they wish to take part in outside activities. The lawsuit mentions that two professors previously had testified as voting rights experts, before 2020, including those in which the state was a defendant. This time their request to participate in lawful activities was denied by the UF authorities, stating it was not in the University’s best interests. Discrimination and prior restraint on the basis of viewpoints or contents are presumptively unconstitutional, the lawsuit affirms. While the lawsuit acknowledged that the decision as regards the three professors was reversed, the underlying policy remained firmly in place, and that could lead to the same thing happening time and time again, it said.