University of Florida to allow professors to testify in voting rights case after backlash
The University of Florida (UF) said Friday that it will allow professors to testify in a voting rights lawsuit against the state, reversing its position following a wave of public backlash.
Reports previously emerged that the school was barring professors from giving testimony due to a conflict of interest.
In a message to the campus, UF President W. Kent Fuchs said he had asked the school’s Conflicts of Interest Office to reverse decisions on “recent requests” from employees wishing to testify in litigation in which the state of Florida is a party.
Fuchs also said the office will approve requests for testimony “regardless of personal compensation, assuming the activity is on their own time without using university resources.”
Additionally, Fuchs announced the members of a task force that will review the school’s response to employees who want to serve as expert witnesses in cases involving the state of Florida.
UF was hit with backlash over the past week after lawyers for a civil rights group suing the state revealed in court records that UF had barred three professors from serving as paid experts in a lawsuit over Senate Bill 90, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed in May.
The bill limited the use of ballot drop boxes and created new ID requirements for mail-in voting, among other restrictions.
The professors who requested permission to testify — Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin — were all notified the week of Oct. 11 that the testimony posed conflicts of interest to the school because the state is a party.
Earlier on Friday, the union representing UF employees encouraged donors to stop sending money to the university, according to local NPR affiliate WUFT.
Dozens of donors took to social media over the past week, pledging to stop donating to the school until it changed its decision, the outlet reported.
David O’Neal and Paul Donnelly, lawyers representing Smith, Austin, and McDonald, said in a statement that they are “continuing to assess our options” despite the reversal.
“While the University of Florida reversed course and allowed our clients to testify in this particular case, the fact remains that the University curtailed their First Amendment rights and academic freedoms, and as long as the University’s policy remains, those rights and freedoms are at risk,” O’Neal and Donnelly said.
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