AFA Sends Follow Up Letter to University of Florida After Partial Reversal

Nov 3, 2021 | Press Release

AFA Sends Follow Up Letter to University of Florida After Partial Reversal

Letter comments on University’s decision to allow professors to testify on a “pro bono” basis

PRINCETON, NJ – Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) sent a follow up letter to the University of Florida commenting on the partial reversal of the University’s prior position that professors could not serve as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state of Florida. After the AFA’s first letter, the University released a statement yesterday announcing that the professors are free to “testify pro bono on their own time without using university resources.” 

“Unfortunately, your most recent statement is a half-measure that does not yet satisfy the University’s obligations under the First Amendment,” wrote Keith E. Whittington, chair of the AFA’s academic committee, in the follow up letter to UF President Kent Fuchs. “In this context, there is no constitutional distinction to be made between faculty members serving as paid expert witnesses and testifying pro bono. A federal circuit court was very clear about this issue when confronted with an example of the state of Texas attempting to prohibit faculty members at a state university from serving as paid expert witnesses in a lawsuit against the state.”

“To the rhetorical question, ‘is speech still free if you get paid for it?,’ that court answered with an emphatic ‘yes.’ The constitutional right of these professors to testify in court is precisely the same whether they are being paid for their service or not” Whittington continued. “The Academic Freedom Alliance stands firmly behind the professors in this matter and calls on the University of Florida to drop its requirement that these professors testify only on a pro bono basis.”

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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.