According to the documents filed by plaintiffs, the University of Florida prohibited three of its professors testifying in court as experts witnesses in a case challenging an existing Florida voter law.
S.B. The law in question, S.B. S.B. 90 imposed new limits on the use of ballot drop boxes and voting by mail. Florida Gov. The bill was signed into law by Ron DeSantis in May. A group of voting rights activists sued Ron DeSantis to stop it in May. They claimed that the bill violated the Voting Right Act and would be disproportionately harmful to people of color.
The plaintiffs requested the testimony of three University of Florida professors: Michael McDonald, Sharon Austin and Daniel Smith. They are experts in voting law and behavior. But, the university refused to grant the requests of the plaintiffs, stating that the University of Florida had “outside activities that could pose a conflicts of interest for the executive branch of State of Florida create an issue.” UF, as a university that is publicly funded, has First Amendment obligations for its students and faculty. It denial was news to the professors—in fact, as The New York TimesAccording to reports, Smith “testified previously with permission from the University of Florida in two voting rights cases against Florida’s Republican government in 2018”.
In a joint statement issued over the weekend by UF President Kent Fuchs (provost Joe Glover), they affirmed the university’s commitment academic freedom and freedom to speech. The statement also announced that a task force was to be appointed to examine the university’s policy regarding conflicts of interests for consistency and fidelity. It further clarified that professors are allowed to testify pro bono at their own pace without the use of university resources.
But, McDonald’s is a good example of this. tweetedThis week we had “Our Compensation” not mentioned in the university’s initial disapproval.”Smith declined ReasonFuchs’ request for comment, inciting potential litigation. Fuchs was provided with a statement. ReasonPaul Donnelly and David O’Neill are the lawyers representing these professors. They claim that prohibiting Professors from giving standard expert evidence and instead allowing pro-bono testimony undermines their credibility, which chills their speech.
Smith’s C.V. can be found on the school website. It lists many pages detailing his experience as an expert witness, consultant or lead author on behalf of plaintiffs. Only three of the cases in which he has appeared pro bono are his. Jennifer Garrett is a media strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, one of Smith’s C.V. references. There is a reason Smith received compensation for his efforts with the company.
Theoretically, it’s possible for any government agency to restrain the expressions of its employees. National ReviewDan McLaughlin, a spokesman for UC Berkeley’s academics writes that although they aren’t bound by any code of ethics nor a duty to loyalty to employers, they still work as state employees and should not have the right to “use the imprimatur of being state-university faculty professors to argue against the state in front of a judge or jury.”
The Supreme Court however ruled in the following letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Lane v. Franks 2014: “Truthful testimony taken under oath in the absence of an employee’s normal duties is speech to be considered a citizen. This applies only to First Amendment cases. FIRE released the following statement in a release: “It does not matter if professors receive a salary for their labor or if they are provided pro bono. They are entitled to testify.
A fourth professor from UF came forward Tuesday to claim that he was prevented by the university from giving expert testimony. According to The Chronicle of Higher EducationJeffrey Goldhagen (a Jacksonville-based professor of pediatrics) was invited to give expert testimony in a variety of DeSantis case regarding the mask mandate ban. Despite Goldhagen’s assurances not to expect payment, and the fact that he was participating in the case as a private citizen rather than as a UF faculty, Goldhagen’s request were denied. This is because “UF” is an extension to the state and a state agency. Any litigation that is against the state will be detrimental to UF.
Criticians of UF’s actions blame the DeSantis government, pointing to the fact that Morteza Hosseini is a DeSantis advisor. DeSantis office denied involvement in UF’s decision. It’s not clear how the professors who testify on state policies in their areas of expertise might be considered “adverse”. [the]”Interests” to the university, except that the university was afraid of some form of retaliation by the DeSantis administration.
Although it remains to be determined if the school’s policy violates the Constitution, at least the fact that it does not undermine free speech on colleges campuses is something to consider. Aaron Terr from FIRE wrote to Fuchs in a letter that the idea that a government agent such as UF might suppress truthful testimony at court due to a general concern about whether the testimony would be ‘adverse to the government’s interest is totally contrary to the First Amendment. This could also make it difficult to administer justice.