UF, stop muzzling professors

By Mark Ferrulo - November 4, 2021

"Rest in peace, academic freedom, because the University of Florida has decided faculty members may speak their minds only when it’s in the best interests of the Gators and the governor. In effect, that means no university-sanctioned criticism of state government, its laws or the GOP leaders who make them…the University of Florida is looking more like a political toady than an independent academic institution."Orlando Sentinel editorial, November 1st

Florida’s flagship university has been engulfed in controversy following reports the school prevented three professors from testifying as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the administration of Gov. DeSantis. The lawsuit by voting rights organizations seeks to overturn the state’s restrictive elections law passed by the GOP legislators and signed into law by DeSantis in 2020.

As questions swirl around the influence of Gov. DeSantis in this shocking attack on academic freedom and free speech, and what exactly led to the university’s decision, we are learning these three professors are just the latest to have their free speech squelched by the university. The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau reported Tuesday that at least eight professors, and others “who are reluctant to come forward”, have been targeted for muzzling by the school[1].

Send a letter to University of Florida President Ken Fuchs demanding he end this indefensible muzzling of professors and reverse the school’s decision and support the professors’ right to free speech.

The latest revelations came after it emerged that a GOP mega-donor and advisor to Gov. Ron DeSantis, University of Florida Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini, pushed for the school’s hiring of DeSantis’ controversial and divisive pick for Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo. Like DeSantis, Ladapo’s rhetoric has consistently catered to the anti-science, anti-mask and anti-vaccine right-wing fringe of the Florida electorate.

Muzzling free speech, infringing on academic freedom and promoting anti-science views demonstrate how the University of Florida is morphing into a tool of the Governor, rather than a bastion of learning and free thinking. The professors’ union, the United Faculty of Florida, put it this way: “It is absolutely shameful that the University of Florida has chosen this partisan approach to public service in an attempt to sway the outcome of a lawsuit.”

Tell University of Florida President Ken Fuchs to support free speech and end this embarrassment for the university by letting the professors testify with no restrictions.

So far, the only explanation offered by the university is utter nonsense. The school claimed the professors’ testimony would constitute a conflict of interest. That’s a total reach, and contrary to numerous instances over the decades when professors and faculty offered expert testimony against the state. The school then backtracked, attempting to claim the professors were told they could have testified – but only if they weren’t compensated. This claim has been rejected by the professors, who were told flatly they could not testify with no mention of compensation whatsoever.

Thankfully, there has been forceful pushback against the school’s decision. The accrediting authority for colleges and universities has vowed to investigate whether the university’s actions fly in the face of standards for academic freedom, or were a result of undue political influence. And Florida's Democratic congressional delegation strongly condemned the school's attempt to block the professors’ testimony in a letter to school President Ken Fuchs. Now we need you to step up and add your voice to the growing chorus of Floridians calling on UF to reverse this decision.

Tell University of Florida President Ken Fuchs: support academic freedom, quit acting on behalf of politicians including Gov. Ron DeSantis, and let the professors testify.

For free speech and academic freedom,

Mark, Ray (Gator alum), Amy (Gator mom) and the Progress Florida team

PS – Be sure to forward this alert to friends and family, especially those who may be students, alumni, or staff at the University of Florida.

[1] UF restricted five other professors’ participation in legal cases against the state, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, November 2, 2021