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University of Florida bans professors from testifying

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University of Florida bans professors from testifying

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The University of Florida bans three professors from providing expert testimony in a lawsuit challenging a new law that critics say restricts voting rights, claiming it goes against interests of the school by coming into conflict with the administration of the Florida government. Ron DeSantis.

Although the decision is criticized as a threat to academic freedom and free speech, the university said in a statement on Saturday that allowing professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin to serve as paid experts for Plaintiffs challenging the law would be “against the interests as an institution of the State of Florida.”

“The University of Florida has a long history of supporting free speech and academic freedom for our faculty, and we will continue to do so,” the statement said.

Lawyers for a coalition of civic groups challenging the law said in court documents on Friday that professors were told by the university that their expert testimony would disagree with the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, creating a conflict for the school.

“UF will refuse requests from its employees to engage in outside activities when it determines that the activities are contrary to its interests. As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is against UF’s interests, ”according to an email from an assistant vice president of the university at McDonald’s that was filed with the court documents.

Another university official said in an email to Smith that “outside activities which may present a conflict of interest for the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.”

Lawyers for the professors said on Saturday they would take legal action for violations of the First Amendment and academic freedom if the school did not reverse the decision.

“The university cannot silence professors on matters of great public importance. These professors are citizens entitled to participate in the ideas market, ”said lawyers Paul Donnelly and Conor Flynn in a letter to a university lawyer. “These illegal restrictions are disgraceful and could very well deter top academics from joining the ranks of the UF.”

The Florida ACLU legal director, writing on behalf of Smith, said the professor was acting as a private citizen and his testimony would be crucial for the public to understand “one of their most precious rights.”

“But perhaps more importantly, UF just shouldn’t look to Governor DeSantis to decide what speech activities it will allow its employees and students to engage in,” wrote Daniel Tilley of the ACLU. to university officials.

Like universities elsewhere, the University of Florida routinely allows its professors to testify in cases where they can provide their expertise, and Smith has previously testified in Florida suffrage cases.

In its statement, the University of Florida said the decision not to let professors do outside paid work does not deny them their First Amendment rights or academic freedom.

Lawyers for the coalition of civic groups are trying to obtain testimony from the governor on his role in shaping the new law, but lawyers for the administration are opposed to the attempt. The new law restricts the use of mail-in ballot drop-boxes, requires voters to request a mail-in vote, and prohibits non-scrutineers from feeding or drinking to queuing voters.

Two weeks ago, the day he found out he would not be able to testify, Smith tweeted an image from Hannah Arendt’s classic book “The Origins of Totalitarianism”.

“Dust off this library classic for light weekend reading,” Smith wrote.

For its part, McDonald’s tweeted a video Friday night of Tom Petty singing, “I won’t back down.” He and his colleagues “are the private professors of our constitutional right to free speech by the university,” he wrote.

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at

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