University of Florida's Politically Motivated Violation of Academic Freedom Undermines the Common Good

Statement from AAUP President Irene Mulvey on University of Florida's Blatant Violation of Academic Freedom:

The AAUP condemns in the strongest possible terms the decision by the University of Florida to deny permission to three University of Florida (UF) faculty members to provide expert testimony in a major voting rights case challenging Florida Senate Bill 90.

UF’s infringement of the academic freedom rights of professors Sharon Austin, Dan Smith, and Michael McDonald sets a dangerous precedent by allowing partisan politics to impinge upon the right and duty of faculty to share expertise for the public good. Faculty members are routinely called upon to provide expert testimony on matters of all kinds. In fact, all three of the UF faculty members who were denied permission to assist the plaintiffs have provided expert testimony in lawsuits in the past. This makes last week’s rulings by the university all the more dubious.

The written denials sent from assistant vice president Gary Wimsett justified the denial because the “activities are adverse to [the university’s] interests.” This “justification” is inconsistent with the university’s mission "to share the benefits of its research and knowledge for the public good.” The hypocrisy is breathtaking. These decisions reek of inappropriate political interference and are completely indefensible.

When a politician attempts to use the power and pressure of the state to silence scholars with expertise on any matter of public concern, it is incumbent upon the university administration to stand firm, insist on institutional autonomy, and push back with the strongest possible defense of academic freedom. Universities exist to foster the independent search for knowledge and truth in support of the public good. When the university twists itself to serve the partisan interests of a politician, as appears to be the case here, the university has abandoned its mission, undermining any claim to be serving the common good.

UF’s decision constitutes an egregious violation of faculty members’ academic freedom and is almost certainly a violation of their free speech rights as citizens. The AAUP stands in solidarity with these scholars in accordance with our mission statement to advance academic freedom in American colleges and universities. We affirm their right to provide expert testimony and will provide whatever assistance we can to support them in their efforts.

Publication Date: 
Monday, November 1, 2021