A pair of House Democrats request information about the University of Florida (UF) conflict of interest policy after the school made headlines in recent weeks for banning and then allowing three professors to testify at a federal voting rights lawsuit against the state.
News broke last month that UF prohibited three professors from testifying as expert witnesses in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of civil rights groups against Florida over the state Senate voting rights bill, which limited the use of ballot boxes and established new identification requirements for voting by mail, in addition to other restrictions.
The Gainesville school told the teachers that they were not allowed to testify as experts in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs as part of their “outside activities.” Emails sent to teachers revealed that the restriction was implemented due to conflicts of interest with the state executive branch.
The university reversed the course days later, allowing the trio of professors to testify, but that did not stop the three educators from filing a federal lawsuit requesting that the state stop enforcing “any policy or practice” that allows the school to limit its capacity. to testify. in cases that do not coincide with the “interests” of the state of Florida.
In a letter UF President Wesley Kent Fuchs, Democratic representatives. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin Memorandum: Democrats May Regret Chase Bannon Subpoenas Shows Jan. 6 Panel’s Focus On Trump Overnight Energy & Environment Plans – Presented By American Clean Power – Democrats Prepare To question oil executives MORE (Md.) And Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.) Said that the subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is investigating “the extent to which your university’s actions have undermined the integrity of academic freedom and interfered with the right to speak freely as private citizens on matters of great public interest ”.
“In addition, we seek to understand the extent to which federally funded universities use conflict of interest policies to censor employees who oppose the interests of the political party in power,” the lawmakers added.
They said they were writing with “deep concern” that the measure was “in violation of the First Amendment and in contravention of long-established principles of academic freedom.”
“We are concerned that the UF is censoring its faculty based on point of view, which would set a dangerous precedent that runs counter to its own commitment to freedom of expression,” added Raskin and Wasserman-Schultz.
Legislators requested a list of information related to the situation, including the names of people who participated in the development of the conflict of interest policy, information about teachers who were denied the ability to participate in “outside activities” and dozens of important documents.
Contacted by The Hill for comment, Hessy Fernandez, UF’s director of problem management and crisis communications, said the school received the letter and acknowledged receipt to the committee and is now working to respond to inquiries.
“We are working to respond within the guidelines we received,” Fernández said.