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The UF faculty union urges a halt to donations as support mounts for professors over free speech

Reitz Union on the UF campus
Fresh Take Florida
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he union for faculty members at the University of Florida is urging donors to withhold contributions and scholars and artists to turn down invitations to campus. They are making both requests in an effort to force administrators to affirm the free speech rights of school employees.

The United Faculty of Florida made the demand on Friday in response to university leaders prohibiting three professors from being paid as expert witnesses in a lawsuit challenging a new Florida elections law that critics say harms voting rights.

The union for faculty members at the University of Florida is urging donors to withhold contributions and scholars and artists to turn down invitations to campus.

They are making both requests in an effort to force administrators to affirm the free speech rights of school employees.

The United Faculty of Florida made the demand on Friday in response to university leaders prohibiting three professors from being paid as expert witnesses in a lawsuit challenging a new Florida elections law that critics say harms voting rights.

Political science professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin were hired to testify as expert witnesses for plaintiffs in the case.

According to a court document filed by the plaintiffs last week, the university told the professors that “outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict” for UF.

The university later issued a statement clarifying its position, saying that it took issue with the professors getting paid for serving as witnesses.

The statement said the professors would be allowed to participate in the case if they serve “pro bono on their own time without using university resources."

Meanwhile, pressure from faculty statewide is mounting on UF leaders to reconsider the decision.

The Advisory Council of Faculty Senates, which represents faculty senates of all 12 state universities, approved a resolution Thursday urging the university to reconsider its decision.

Council chairman William Self, who serves on the state university system Board of Governors, read the resolution aloud during a Board of Governors meeting Thursday.

“Together, we express deep alarm about what appears to be a serious breach of academic freedom,” Self read. The resolution pointed to a 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” by the American Association of University Professors, which the advisory council said “set forth clear professional norms” regarding faculty participation in civil discourse.

“When faculty are invited to participate in policy processes through their speech or research, they do so as objective experts, prepared by academic training to focus on evidence over bias,” the resolution said. “When they are denied that right to participate, not only does it undermine both freedom of inquiry and the independence of the university, it denies the citizens of the state, to whom the university is ultimately responsible, access to the most current and independent knowledge available on the issue under consideration.”

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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