UF professors file federal complaint alleging “stifling of professors’ discourse”

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Three University of Florida professors who were not allowed to testify in a lawsuit against the state’s new electoral law filed a federal complaint on Friday alleging that their First Amendment rights had been violated and asking the court to overturn the school’s policy which led to a “smothering of teachers’ discourse.” against the state.

The lawsuit took place despite the university reversing its decision earlier on Friday and allowing the three faculty members, all political science professors, to participate in the voting rights lawsuit after all – as long as ‘they did it on their own time and did not use school resources.

The lawsuit notes that the state has not “prohibited the testimony of professors from public universities who favor its point of view.”

He also points to reports that the university has also refused similar requests from other faculties to participate in a lawsuit. “These requests had one thing in common with the plaintiffs,” says the lawsuit. “They asked for permission to support groups suing the state. “

Faculty members, he said, were not employed “to be spokespersons for a particular administration – or any administration – point of view.”

Related: UF teachers’ union calls for boycott of academic freedoms

Hessy Fernandez, spokesperson for the university, said UF is not commenting on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Gainesville, names UF President Kent Fuchs, Provost Joe Glover and the university’s board of trustees as defendants. It is aimed at an academic policy stating that any activity of an employee that “affects or appears to affect their professional judgment or their obligations to the University” could be a conflict.

The policy, which was changed on July 1, 2020, requires faculty members to apply through an academic portal whenever they wish to participate in outside activities.

The lawsuit says two of the professors have already testified as voting rights experts in cases prior to 2020, including those in which the state was a defendant. This time, however, their requests were denied, stating that it was not in the best interests of the university.

“Discrimination and prior restriction on the basis of point of view or content is presumed unconstitutional,” the lawsuit said.

Although the lawsuit acknowledges that the decision regarding the three professors was overturned, the policy remains in place, and that could lead to the same thing happening again, he said.

Related: UF, in search of status in academia, is castigated by its own heads of faculty

The three professors – Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin – have called for the policy to be declared illegal and for the university to be permanently barred from implementing policies restricting activities because they are not in the interests of the state.

If no action is taken, the lawsuit says, “University policy will continue to prevent plaintiffs from serving as expert witnesses or from lending their analysis or expertise to litigation challenging state policies, by violation of the First Amendment “.

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