ORLANDO, Florida (AP) – The University of Florida bans three professors from expert testimony in a lawsuit challenging a new law that critics say restricts voting rights, saying it’s against the school’s interest because it’s against the Florida government . Ron DeSantis.
Although the decision was criticized as a threat to academic freedom and freedom of speech, the university said in a statement Saturday that allowing professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin to serve as paid experts for plaintiffs challenging the law would be “harmful to the university.” . interests as an institution of the State of Florida. “
“The University of Florida has long supported the freedom of speech and academic freedom of our faculty and we will continue to do so,” the statement said.
Lawyers for the coalition of civil groups challenging the law said in court documents Friday that the university told professors that their expert testimony would deviate from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, leading to conflict for the school.
“UF will reject the requests of its employees to participate in external activities when it finds that these activities are detrimental to its interests. As the UF is a state actor, lawsuits against the state are against the interests of the UF, ”he said in an e-mail from the assistant vice president at McDonald’s University, which was filed together with court documents.
Another university official said in an email to Smith that “outside activities that could present a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida are creating a conflict for the University of Florida.”
The professors’ lawyers announced on Saturday that they would initiate legal proceedings for violations of the First Amendment and academic freedom if the school does not overturn the decision.
“The university cannot silence professors on matters of great public importance. These professors are citizens who have the right to participate in the idea market, ”attorneys Paul Donnelly and Conor Flynn said in a letter to the university attorney. “These illegal restrictions are shameful and could very well deter top scholars from joining UF species.”
The ACLU’s legal director in Florida, who wrote on Smith’s behalf, said the professor acted as a private citizen and that his testimony would be crucial to the public in understanding “one of their most valuable rights”.
“But perhaps most importantly, the UF simply shouldn’t look to Governor DeSantis to decide what speaking activities it will allow its employees and students,” Daniel Tilley of the ACLU wrote to university officials.
Like universities elsewhere, the University of Florida routinely allows its professors to testify in cases where they can provide expertise, and Smith has previously testified in cases of voting rights in Florida.
In a statement, the University of Florida said the decision not to allow professors to work outside of paid work does not deny them their rights under the First Amendment or academic freedom.
Lawyers for a coalition of civilian groups are trying to get testimony from the governor about his role in drafting the new law, but administrative lawyers are fighting the attempt. The new law restricts the use of mailboxes, requires voters to request mail voting, and prohibits non-election workers from giving food or drink to voters waiting in line.
Two weeks ago, on the day he realized he would not be able to testify, Smith tweeted a picture of Hannah Arendt’s classic book, The Origin of Totalitarianism.
“Remove dust from the bookshelf for easy reading on the weekends,” Smith wrote.
McDonald tweeted a video Friday night in which Tom Petty sings, “I’m not going to back down.” He and his colleagues “are a faculty whose university denies them the constitutional right to freedom of speech,” he wrote.
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