The University of Florida is a proud institution whose alumni love to remind folks that it’s great to be a Florida Gator. That’s true most of the time, but lately, um, not so much.
A series of unforced errors has left the state’s flagship university divided, embarrassed and needing changes.
The latest involves what, on the surface, seems like a rather callous COVID-19 policy by the university. The Independent Florida Alligator reported on the case of freshman Juan Esquivel, who tested positive for the virus Jan. 12.
Esquivel said an employee with UF’s housing department coldly told him to be out of his dorm by 5 p.m. “or there’ll be serious consequences.”
Esquivel lives in Tennessee.
UF used to offer isolation dorms for students who live on campus and test positive for COVID-19, but it now limits that option. The employee told Esquivel there was no place on campus where he could isolate, so GET OUT!
A friend put him up in a hotel for one night, and Esquivel flew home the next day. He wore two masks on the plane.
Yes, COVID-19 is serious, and the university must protect students and staff against a relentless opponent. Have a little empathy, though, especially with scared and confused students.
Courtesy is free, you know.
But UF’s virus policy isn’t the only smudge on its record of late.
Last week, U.S. Chief District Judge Mark Walker excoriated the university for trying to prevent six professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state.
He compared UF’s actions to Hong Kong University’s removal of a 25-foot sculpture about the Chinese military’s massacre of student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. That appeared to be a preemptive move to avoid reprisals from the Chinese government.
If UF didn’t like the comparison, the judge wrote, “the solution is simple. Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong.”
In October, three professors sued after university officials said they couldn’t act as expert witnesses for plaintiffs challenging the state’s restrictive new voting law. First Amendment advocates went bonkers, and the university retreated, but the lawsuit went forward.
Later, a pediatrics professor joined the lawsuit. He said the university blocked him from testifying in a different suit challenging the executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis to withhold funds from schools that enforced mask mandates. Two law professors also signed on, saying they could only sign a court brief against the state if they withheld their affiliation to UF.
Let’s not forget the reports that showed Board of Trustees Chair Morteza Hosseini expedited Joseph Ladapo’s resume to UF Health despite his controversial views on COVID-19. The same week DeSantis appointed Ladapo as the state’s new Surgeon General, he received a UF professorship with tenure.
Politics, particularly the heavy hand DeSantis often wields, is at the core of these situations. That’s not unusual.
University presidents around the state present their institutions as idyllic places dedicated to unlocking young minds, but the reality is somewhat different. They understand that dealing with lawmakers goes with the territory.
Budgets and careers can rise and fall on how skillfully they do that.
This seems different though.
You can say the experiences of the COVID-19 student and the muzzled university professors are not related. However, I think it shows a growing coarseness by UF leaders. They seem to fear reprisals from Tallahassee if they teach or say something that isn’t in lockstep with what the state demands.
Earlier this month, UF President Kent Fuchs announced he would resign after this year. He said it was “time to pass the baton.”
The worry is, which hand will be outstretched to receive the handoff?