USF faculty union decries UF’s suppression of academic freedom rights

The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) USF chapter denounced UF’s decision to deny three faculty members the opportunity to provide expert testimony in litigation against the state of Florida in an email sent out Nov. 5. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) USF chapter expressed its disappointment with UF preventing three of its faculty members from testifying in a lawsuit, citing the decision as a violation of community rights.

In a universitywide email sent out Nov. 5, USF’s UFF chapter stated that by barring the faculty members from providing expert testimony in a legal case against the state, the UF administration has silenced experts from speaking on the topic on behalf of the community.

“We are astonished and disappointed that the administration of UF has repeatedly barred faculty from testifying in politically sensitive lawsuits, particularly since these lawsuits concerned the actions of the state government,” UFF said in the the email.

After a Nov. 5 UFF USF chapter meeting, a consensus was reached to send the email to convey the committee’s stance on the topic.

The email stated that the UF administration violated both the faculty’s First Amendment rights and the community’s right to the faculty’s expertise on their respective subject.

The lawsuit challenges a new state law backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that the plaintiffs argue discriminates against voters of color and violates the Voting Rights Act. 

Three UF political science professors were denied the ability to share their knowledge as expert witnesses surrounding new state law.

UF’s reason behind its denial of the faculty’s participation in the lawsuit follows their belief that it would interfere with the interests of the university as a state agency. The interests of the university that would be hindered by the participation of the professors were not specified and are still unclear.     

“UF is an extension of the state as a state agency, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests,” UF Assistant Vice President for Conflicts of Interests Gary Wimsett said.

The union leaders plead to faculty donors to withhold funding until a formidable change has been delivered and pressure the university into allowing faculty to become paid experts in cases that challenge state policy.   

Following the backlash, UF retracted its initial decision on Nov. 5 and is allowing them to take part. Although its recent statement indicates its disappointment with the situation, UFF is pleased with the reversal of the university’s judgment.    

“We are pleased and relieved that the UF administration has finally decided to permit faculty to testify (in this case) and we hope that the task force recommends that the administration recognize the right of faculty to share their expertise with the community,” the email said. 

USF’s UFF chapter leadership offered support to USF faculty in order to prevent any situations similar to this one from happening in the future.

If you are a USF faculty member and your academic freedom rights have been similarly violated, please let us know at once,” the email said.