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Friday, May 20, 2022

Dean who barred professor from testifying against state says UF administration directed him to do so

Tigert Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.
Tigert Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

The dean who blocked three UF political science professors from testifying against the state said his decision was heavily influenced by the university’s top administrators.

Before the Chronicle of Higher Education report Monday, spokespeople from UF claimed there was no pressure on the administration from the governor’s office to bar the professors. A later report from the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau showed top members of UF’s board of trustees have political ties to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who championed the policies the professors would have testified against in court.

David Richardson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, shared more about his role in the growing controversy during the meeting of the CLAS Assembly Monday. 

After receiving a request from professor Daniel Smith to testify in a case challenging the state’s voting rights law, Richardson said he sought counsel from central administration. In the meeting, he said he did so because the defendant in the case in question was a state official. 

UF told Richardson there was a university policy in place that he was to enforce. He was informed that the policy would be to disapprove Smith’s request. 

Before officially making the decision, Richardson said he asked for a further discussion with administration to understand the policy more, but he was never given the chance to do so. 

Richardson said he could reject Smith’s request and maintain UF policy or accept his request and go against UF policy.

“Either decision [could have had] negative consequences for the college and the university— that was clear,” he said during the meeting. 

The ultimate decision led to heavy criticism of the university and an investigation from UF’s accreditor. UF President Kent Fuchs requested Nov.5 that the decision be reversed. 

Richardson said he realized soon after the controversy broke out that he needed to further educate himself on conflict-of-interest and public-employment issues. After further research, he decided to reverse the disapproval two days prior to Fuchs’ request.

“I am very comfortable with the decision ultimately made, both by myself and by the president,” Richardson said. 

Contact Elena Barrera at ebarrera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.

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Elena Barrera

Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.


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