The University of Florida (UF) is facing heavy criticism after barring professors from providing testimony in a federal lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis and the state’s new elections law. Critics charge that the law will negatively impact voter turnout, especially among people of color.
On Friday, a court filing revealed that the university prohibited three political science professors from offering their services as paid expert witnesses against the new election law that restricts voting.
Tampa Bay Times reported that UF’s decision was based on its new conflict-of-interest guidelines. The administration is concerned that the professors’ testimonies could pose a “conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida and create conflict for the University of Florida.”
Since Friday, five more professors have stated that the university prohibited them from testifying or instructed them to omit their ties to the school in their court statements.
Under intense scrutiny, university leaders have ordered a review of the school’s reason for the decision and its policy on conflicts of interest.
“The University of Florida stands firmly behind its commitment to uphold our most sacred right as Americans, the right to free speech, and to faculty members’ right to academic freedom,” UF President Kent Fuchs and Provost Joseph Glover said in a statement.
A Case of Political Pressure?
Critics have suggested DeSantis’ involvement in the controversy, stating that the university’s actions are a result of political meddling.
“It’s creating an environment which is putting intolerable pressure on universities and other institutions as well to comply with the political policies of this administration, for sure,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, a professor at UF Jacksonville College of Medicine.
However, a DeSantis spokesperson has denied claims that his administration put pressure on the university to prevent experts from appearing in court.
“This is an internal U.F. issue and not the sort of thing that the executive branch would be involved in. Governor DeSantis has always championed free speech, open inquiry and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses, Spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said.