AFA Denounces University of Florida for Blocking Professors from Serving as Witnesses in Case Against the State

Nov 1, 2021 | Press Release

AFA Denounces University of Florida for Blocking Professors from Serving as Witnesses in Case Against the State

Letter calls decision a “serious violation” of academic freedom

PRINCETON, NJ – Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) sent a letter to the University of Florida denouncing its decision to block three professors from serving as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state of Florida regarding the constitutionality of the recently enacted electoral law. The university denied the professors’ requests on the grounds that such outside activities “may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida.” In a subsequent defense of its decision, it asserted that full-time employees could not undertake “outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.”

“I write on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance to express our firm view that this decision is a serious violation of the academic freedom principles to which the University of Florida is committed,” wrote Keith E. Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, in the letter to UF President Kent Fuchs. “The university is mistaken in thinking that this decision is consistent with the principles of free speech and academic freedom and has construed the potential conflicts of interest in this case in a manner that is incompatible with maintaining academic freedom in the future.”

“Whatever interest a state university might have in preventing members of its faculty from acting as political partisans when operating within their duties as state employees, that interest cannot be understood to extend to restricting the speech activities in which professors might engage when operating outside their university duties and acting as private citizens,” Whittington continued.

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The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. The Academic Freedom Alliance itself takes no position on the merits of the substantive content of faculty speech or writing.

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No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.