During the past week, the University of Florida (UF) Administration barred three UF faculty from testifying in a lawsuit, then announced that the faculty could do so pro bono, and now has just announced that they can testify without restrictions and that a task force has been created to look into this policy. In the meantime, there have been reactions across the nation and indeed around the world (see the article in yesterday's Biweekly for details). Meanwhile, at today's UFF USF Chapter Meeting, the Chapter resolved to publish the following statement.
The mission of a public university entails providing the fruits of its scholarship to the community. This includes the availability of expert counsel to the public, to other public agencies, and to the organs of government.
For this reason, we are astonished and disappointed that the administration of the University of Florida has repeatedly barred faculty from testifying in politically sensitive lawsuits, particularly since these lawsuits concerned the actions of the state government.
We are not convinced by the UF Administration's recent rationale that their concern was the compensation for faculty service as expert witnesses, for this was not the concern expressed by the UF Assistant Vice President for Conflicts of Interest: "UF is an extension of the state as a state agency, litigation against the state is adverse to UF's interests."
The state government is not Florida incarnate: Florida is 22 million people, and the state government is their servant. When the UF Administration barred faculty from testifying, it not only violated their First Amendment rights, it also violated the right of the community to their expertise. And in interfering with witnesses, it hindered an organ of the state government: the courts.
We are pleased and relieved that the UF Administration has finally decided to permit faculty to testify (in this case) and we hope that the task force recommends that the Administration recognize the right of faculty to share their expertise with the community.
The University of Florida Chapter of the UFF has also published a statement with a list of demands. See also the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure published by the American Association of University Professors. And follow us on Twitter via @UffUsf, check out The USF Faculty Blog and our United Faculty of Florida at USF group page.
And if you are a USF faculty member and your academic freedom rights have been similarly violated, please let us know at once. Unfortunately, we can only represent UFF members in grievances, so join today.
Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.
Next Chapter Meeting Friday, November 12, at 12 noon, via Zoom: for an invitation, contact the Chapter Secretary.
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