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University of Florida Professors Barred From Witnessing in Voting Rights Lawsuit

The University of Florida (UF) is barring three professors from proffering expert testimony in a lawsuit disputing state law critics alleged restrains voting rights. According to the UF, the school must not be placed in adversary with the GOP governor Ron DeSantis’ administration.

University of Florida

Three professors from the University of Florida (UF) were refused permission to serve as experts in the case challenging Senate Bill 90. (Photo: The New York Times)

Threat to Free Speech, Academic Freedom?

Although the decision is being condemned as a threat to free speech and academic freedom, the university stated that permitting Michael McDonald, Dan Smith, and Sharon Austin to offer their services as paid experts for appellants disputing the law would be in conflict with the university’s interests as an institution of Florida. The UF released a statement that it has a long track record backing free speech and the academic freedom of their faculty and they will continue to do such, reported The Guardian.

In the filing, the UF professors attempted to question Governor Ron DeSantis on his possible involvement in the decision. DeSantis has alleviated from questioning and contended that all of his communications regarding the law are shielded from divulgement because discussions regarding legislation are privileged. The professors reportedly wanted to proffer proof as expert witnesses that the law undermines minority groups.

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Overturn for the University of Florida

The of the university not to allow the professors to testify was a significant overturn for the University of Florida. Like schools across the US, the university has regularly allowed academic experts to provide expert testimony in lawsuits. This is even when they are against the interests of the political party in power. According to leading experts on academic freedom, they did not know similar restrictions on the speech and testimony of professors’ speech and remarked the action was perhaps unconstitutional.

The 3 Professors

The three professors sought permission to serve as experts in the case challenging Senate Bill 90. The bill was passed by Florida upon the 2020 election. McDonald is a countrywide expert on elections; Smith is the head of UF’s political science department, and Austin studies African American political behavior.  According to Gary Wimsett, UF’s assistant vice president for conflicts of interest, “UF will deny its employees’ requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests,” reported Miami Herald.

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