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UF reverses course and will allow professors to testify in a voting rights lawsuit

Rachael Gregory
Fresh Take Florida
Students walk outside of the Marston Science Library on campus at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Sept. 22, 2021.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs reversed a decision that kept three professors from serving as expert witnesses in a case on changes to Florida’s election rules Friday.

After being prohibited from testifying in a case on Florida election laws, three University of Florida professors are now able to serve as expert witnesses.

Political science professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin were set to testify as experts in a lawsuit against Florida’s election law that passed in this year’s legislative session that restricted vote-by-mail procedures.

The university initially prohibited their participation citing a “conflict of interest” as a state institution.

“I felt like it was definitely a violation of my first amendment rights and definitely a violation of academic freedom,” Austin said Friday on The Florida Roundup.

McDonald also said the decision went against their duties as state university professors.

“When we became public employees we took an oath to uphold not the state government, but the Constitution, both of Florida and the United States,” McDonald said.

McDonald and Austin were on the Florida Roundup to discuss the issue when Fuchs urged the Conflict of Interest office to reconsider the prohibition.

UF had been under fire for the past week, prompting calls for boycotts and for donors to stop providing financial support to the University.

Fuchs said he's asking the office responsible for approving professors’ outside work to reverse recent rejections on requests to serve as expert witnesses in litigation.

The announcement comes hours after the United Faculty of Florida at UF urged donors to withhold contributions and scholars and artists to turn down invitations to campus.

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

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.