University of Florida bars professors from testifying in voting rights lawsuit

University says school should not be placed in conflict with administration of Governor Ron DeSantis

People wait in line to cast early ballots in Miami Beach, Florida, in October 2020. Photograph: Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP/Getty Images

The University of Florida (UF) is prohibiting three professors from providing expert testimony in a lawsuit challenging a state law critics claim restricts voting rights, saying the school should not be placed in conflict with the administration of the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.

Though the decision is being criticized as threat to academic freedom and free speech, the university said allowing Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin to serve as paid experts for plaintiffs challenging the law would be “adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution”.

“The University of Florida has a long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty’s academic freedom, and we will continue to do so,” a statement said.

Lawyers for a coalition of civic groups challenging the law said in court papers the professors were told by the university their expert testimony would dissent from the DeSantis administration, creating a conflict.

“UF will deny its employees’ requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests,” read an email from an assistant vice-president to McDonald filed with the court documents.

“As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.”

Another university official told Smith: “Outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.”

Source: The Guardian and The New York Times