This month Reason Reports state that three University of Florida professors claimed the school had denied them the right of testimony in some lawsuits. It may have done so due to pressure political from the state government. It cited the conflict of interests policy of the university, stating that it acts as an arm to state government as a public institution. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Administration denied being involved in UF’s actions.
Three more professors from different departments joined the lawsuit filed by the professors against the school. Kent Fuchs, the president of UF, called for an “internal task force” to examine the school’s conflict-of-interest policy. The task force determined later that decision-making at the school was not affected by external factors.
However, last week the UF Senate Faculty Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Freedom published a report from an internal investigation that found no evidence to support the claims.
The report, contrary to university statements, states that the current policies do not allow for a conflict to exist if the position taken might be against the interests of executive branches. According to the report, six faculty members were involved in the lawsuit. The only constant was that they were unable or restricted from taking part in cases in which policies were challenged in court.
Other instances of suppression were also alleged in the investigation. You can find out more about the suppression of University of Florida staff members by reading the following: reports that they were ordered verbally not comment on the Governor of Florida’s policies regarding Covid-19 in media interaction; external pressure to destroy data; websites that had to be modified, that the course syllabi needed to be restructured; the fact that the words “critical” and “race” could not appear in the same sentence. This last example, if true, would echo recent Republican-led state laws that forbid the teaching of “critical race theory”.
DeSantis’ office denies any involvement in university decisions. However, this report confirms what The Chronicle of Higher Education “University administrators are afraid to provoke a hostile Republican Legislature and are prepared to compromise the autonomy of faculty to keep it from essentially poking at the bear,” was their description. The allegations, if true, would suggest a hostile campus to freedom of speech.
The right to free speech on campuses of colleges and universities is paramount, especially for public ones. They apply equally to students as to professors. FIRE, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote to UF last month that it has “long been established” that the First Amendment applies to public universities like UF. FIRE’s Sabrina Conza, Kelley Bregenzer, and Sabrina Conza stated last week that preventing faculty members from testingify as private citizens is a violation to their First Amendment rights. It also violates the rights of faculty to properly research and publish information.