In Florida, a firearm grows on University of Silence professors

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In Florida, a firearm grows on University of Silence professors

A decision by the University of Florida to bar three professors from testifying in a trial against the government’s administration has turned into a political and public relations firestorm, which may escalate as other professors view the university’s stories further. pressure to rise or not.

Since Friday, when the university’s decision was disclosed in a federal court filing, five more professors have offered to be restrained from testifying or ordered to mention their university positions in court statements. Is.

The university accrediting body has launched an investigation into whether its orders violate long-established principles of academic freedom or contain “unjustified political influence”. On Monday, the university’s president and provost ordered a review of its policy on conflicts of interest, a reasoning called for decisions to silence professors.

“The University of Florida stands firmly behind our commitment to uphold our most sacred rights as Americans, the right to free speech, and the right of faculty members to academic freedom,” he said in a statement. “Nothing is more fundamental to our existence as an institution.”

A spokesman for Mr DeSantis said he had played no role in the university’s operations. “This is an internal UF issue and not the kind of thing that the Executive Branch would be involved in,” said spokeswoman Christina Pusa. “Governor DeSantis has always supported free speech, open inquiry and approach diversity on college and university campuses.”

Asked on Wednesday whether the administration had any role in the university’s operations, university spokeswoman Hessie Fernandez replied in one word: “No.”

Despite the denials, a group of critics continued to say that there were traces of political interference in the university’s operations. In each of the cases disclosed, the conflict of interest cited as a justification for limiting the professors’ freedom of speech was that they were supporting legal challenges to the policies of the DeSantis administration.

“It is creating an environment that is putting unbearable pressure on universities and other institutions, as well as to comply with the political policies of this administration, of course,” Dr. Jeffrey L. Goldhagen, longtime professor and administrator at the university’s College of Medicine. in Jacksonville. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Pediatrician Dr. Goldhagen said he was denied permission this summer to submit affidavits in the DeSantis administration’s lawsuits banning masks being made mandatory in schools. He said he submitted a declaration anyway.

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“I had no choice, personally or professionally,” he said. “I’ve always made decisions based on what’s best for the kids.”

A second university professor who was barred from participating in the mask trials declined to be named or spoke about the issue.

Dr. Goldhagen’s revelations sparked a controversy that has sparked a flurry of condemnation from academics and free speech experts. More than 80 professors who testify regularly in the lawsuits accused the university of “serious violations of academic freedom and faculty speech rights”. A group of academic organizations called on the university to reverse itself. Florida Democrats in the House of Representatives demanded an explanation.

Universities have almost never tried to interfere with the roles of faculty in litigation. In 2019, Plymouth State University in New Hampshire paid $350,000 to avoid trial by a professor who was fired after testifying for a defense in a controversial criminal case accused of child sex abuse.

In 2016, a University of Florida professor claimed that state lawyers sought to force him to withdraw academic journal submissions that supported Georgia in a long-running dispute over water rights.

As governor, Mr. DeSantis appoints six of the 13 trustees of the University of Florida, and the chairman of the board is a prominent Republican donor and DeSantis adviser. The chair, Morteza Hosseini, arranged for the university this fall to hire and serve a tenure-track professor of California, whom the governor quickly named its surgeon general.

Mr. DeSantis made a rare trip to Gainesville in September to trumpet the news that the University of Florida has been named one of the top five public universities in the annual rankings by US News & World Report.

But he has also suggested that universities are an offshoot of the liberal political establishment that needs restraint. In June, he signed legislation asking public universities to ask both university faculty and students about their political stances, suggesting they are intolerant of conservative viewpoints.

“It was believed that a university campus was a place where you would be exposed to many different ideas,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference after signing the law. “Unfortunately, now the norm, these are intellectually repressive environments. You have stereotypes that are promoted, and other perspectives that are discarded or suppressed.”

He also suggested that state funding for schools could be linked to the results of the survey.

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Controversy over silencing professors erupted Friday after a court revealed that the university had barred three political science professors from giving expert testimony in a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s new election law. The law sharply limits the use of ballots, makes it harder to obtain absentee ballots and places new requirements on voter registration campaigns.

Experts will offer evidence that the changes will affect voter turnout, especially among black people. But university officials stopped him, saying testifying would lead to a “conflict of interest for the executive branch of the state of Florida” and a conflict for the university.

Four more professors at the university’s law school were told last year that they could not identify themselves as University of Florida academics in a courtroom protest against a state law that would have allowed voting rights for former felons. Barriers to restoration. The Miami Herald, which previously reported the actions, said that of the 93 professors nationwide who attended the brief, four were the only ones who did not include their university affiliations.

The University of Florida’s interpretation of its actions has confused its critics. Officials said they relied on new conflict of interest guidelines issued in November 2020, although law professors were told last July not to give up their university affiliations unless they They cannot attend court.

In the case of the three political science professors, university officials argued that they did not restrict their right to speech or academic freedom, but only called them “paid work prejudicial to the interests of the university as a state of the global institution”. was barred from doing.

Mr DeSantis’ spokeswoman echoed that argument in her statement, saying the Constitution “guarantees the right to free speech, but no right to profit from speech.”

But pediatrician Dr. Goldhagen said he was barred from submitting a court declaration in August even though he was not being paid for it and never asked if he was being paid. .

Academic freedom and free speech experts said the distinction between paid and unpaid statements was legally irrelevant, noting that nationwide professors have long been paid for expert testimony, even as the state Even in cases opposing the interests of

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