Monday the university’s president ordered a review of the decision to ban the professors from testifying.
“The University of Florida stands firmly behind its commitment to uphold our most sacred right as Americans, the right to free speech, and to faculty members’ right to academic freedom,” UF said in a statement. “Nothing is more fundamental to our existence as an institution.”
Since the start of all of this controversy, all roads have conspicuously led to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who of course denies any involvement.
This is an internal U.F. issue and not the sort of thing that the executive branch would be involved in,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokeswoman told the Times. “Governor DeSantis has always championed free speech, open inquiry and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses.”
But isn’t it a little smarmy and suspicious that the red carpet appeared to roll out for one professor in Florida—the one who chose to testify in defense of the state's oppressive and racist voting law?
Florida International University professor Dairo Moreno spoke as an “expert witness” in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Lee, which challenges the restrictive voting law, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Florida International’s conflict of interest policy is nearly identical to the University of Florida’s, barring professors from taking jobs that could “interfere with their primary academic duties, affect the university’s integrity, or create a conflict between the private interests of the employee and the public interests of the University, the Board of Governors, and/or the State of Florida,” the Chronicle reports.
Moreno was “hired by the Florida Legislator as an expert witness in defense of every GOP-drawn redistricting map since 1994,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
So despite the numerous lies and negations, DeSantis and his administration have made, the reality is when professors speak out against Florida’s GOP policies they professors are banned, and when they speak in support of the policies, they have the opportunity to testify.
“It’s creating an environment which is putting intolerable pressure on universities and other institutions as well to comply with the political policies of this administration, for sure,” Dr. Jeffrey L. Goldhagen, a longtime professor and administrator at the university’s College of Medicine in Jacksonville, told the Times. “I don’t think there’s any questions about that.”
Goldhagen, a pediatrics expert, was muzzled during the summer when attempting to give sworn testimony disputing DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in schools.
“I had no option, personally or professionally,” he said. “I’ve always made decisions based on what’s best for children.”
Goldhagen’s confession has opened the floodgates. In a letter of support of the three professors, over 80 professors accused the university of “a serious violation of academic freedom and faculty speech rights,” adding: “We call on University of Florida administrators to reverse their decision, and to allow Professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald, and Daniel Smith to offer expert testimony in this case.”
This is just more of DeSantis’ attempt to push his state further into fascism, just as his June legislation attempted to do against the “indoctrination” of students. The law, which went into effect July 1, requires universities and colleges to “survey” students, faculty, and staff about their beliefs with regard to “intellectual diversity.”
The survey will ascertain “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” in public schools and to learn if teachers and students “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom,” according to the bill.
DeSantis suggested the information gathered could be used to cut funding if the schools were found to be ”indoctrinating” students.
In a letter to UF, attorneys Paul Donnelly and Conor Flynn wrote, “The university cannot silence the professors on matters of great public importance. These professors are citizens entitled to participate in the marketplace of ideas.”
Friday, McDonald tweeted a video of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” He and his colleagues “are the faculty being denied our constitutional right to free speech by the university,” he wrote.
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