Federal judge slaps down UF, compares school crackdown on professors to China
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UF can't put gag clauses on their professors, according to the ruling.

A federal judge slammed the University of Florida Friday as he blocked the flagship university from enforcing a contentious policy that would give the school the power to stop professors from testifying in lawsuits against the state.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Walker sided with a group of UF professors who were initially told they could not be witnesses in an ongoing legal challenge against a voting law targeted by civil rights and voting rights groups.

Walker, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, called the policies put in place by the school the “unconstitutional suppression of ideas out of favor with Florida’s ruling party.” 

“Today’s decision is a ringing endorsement of the critical importance of faculty free speech and academic freedom to the health of our democracy,” said David A. O’Neill, an attorney for the professors. “The University may no longer prohibit faculty members from sharing their views with courts and the public just because the ruling political party doesn’t want to hear their truth. The decision sends a clear message to public universities across the country — and to politicians who would try to interfere with them — that they too must honor the constitutional principles that make the college campus a vital engine of a free society.”

Hessy Fernandez, a spokesperson for UF, told Florida Politics in an email the university was “reviewing the order and will determine our next steps.”

UF had reversed the decision to block professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith from testifying in the voting lawsuit amid a rash of national publicity and uproar. But they and three other professors challenged a revised conflict-of-interest policy enacted in the aftermath, arguing it violated their First Amendment rights and constrained academic freedom.

The university’s decision to block the professors created a backlash. But the actions were defended by UF Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini, who in December sharply criticized the professors for getting paid as expert witnesses. He said the professors used “state resources for their own personal gain.”

But Walker, who got both his undergraduate and law degrees at UF, largely sided with the professors and their legal team as he granted a preliminary injunction in the case. This stops UF from enforcing the policy while the underlying lawsuit continues.

In his lengthy ruling, Walker started by comparing the situation in UF to China. He pointed out the University of Hong Kong recently removed a statue dedicated to the 1989 protesters killed in Tiananmen Square by Chinese authorities. Walker wrote: “Some might say, ‘That’s China, it could never happen here.’ But plaintiffs contend it already has.”

Walker added in his footnote that “if those in UF’s administration find this comparison upsetting, the solution is simple. Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong.”

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


7 comments

  • Concern Citizen

    January 21, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    . What is next, book burnings and banning. What group did this in Europe in 20th century?

    • nail

      January 21, 2022 at 7:18 pm

      DeSantis started burning books in grammar school this past summer. Where have you been?

  • just a comment

    January 21, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    I am waiting for the feds to slap the you take 600 out you are under investigation laws rents alone are 2 grand

  • just a comment

    January 21, 2022 at 3:34 pm

    p.s i thought banking deposits were more important then spending very unusual

  • nail

    January 21, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    Florida Politics, why was DeSantis’ part in the banning of the professors testifying not mentioned? Please don’t tell ,e you fell to his powers of persuasion? DeSantis would not allow the professors to testify, although they have before and qualified for this testimony. DeSantis did not want them to speak in court about his Voting Law! He and they, Uof used the rouse that they taught in FL schools they should not testify against the state. Of course DeSantis did his normal dastardly deed. He threatened funding. But they almost lost accrediation for this little move and sat back and allowed DeSantis to get away with it. Cowards! All of them! This was the whole story. But somehow Florida Politics blamed it all on the school. UoF was threatened by DeSantis. Say it, Florida Politics!
    DeSantis already replaced a few of the board members with friends. Dr Death, our new Surgeon General with the alien sperm that causes Covid (oh yes, he believes this, it was the America Fist Doctor motto as they were scamming people) before DeSantis hired this jerk, has not started his job since he was employed since Sept for $535,000.

  • Sylvie

    January 22, 2022 at 10:24 am

    Welcome to Floriduh and buh bye MoRon DeSatan!

  • Rima Sappington

    January 22, 2022 at 6:37 pm

    Poor reporting; not the whole story.

Comments are closed.


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