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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Five additional professors say UF tried silencing them from testifying against state

UF’s faculty union attempted to talk to UF to resolve the conflict behind the scenes, but the university refused to work with them according to the union’s president Paul Ortiz

A mostly deserted evening along Newell Drive at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus on Tuesday, July 22, 2021. The upcoming fall semester will see tens of thousands of students return to Gainesville, although an increase in the number of delta variant COVID-19 infections raises concerns about viral spread among unvaccinated people.
A mostly deserted evening along Newell Drive at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus on Tuesday, July 22, 2021. The upcoming fall semester will see tens of thousands of students return to Gainesville, although an increase in the number of delta variant COVID-19 infections raises concerns about viral spread among unvaccinated people.

Following a revelation over the weekend that three UF professors were barred from testifying against the state, five more professors said the university also limited their abilities to testify in cases against the state. 

Professors Jeffrey L. Goldhagen, Kenneth Nunn, Sarah K. Wolking, Teresa Jean Reid and Mark Fenster have stepped forward in addition to the three initial political science professors that ignited the fight for intellectual freedom, according to a Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau report. 

However, faculty efforts to push back against the university started long before reaching the public eye. 

“We gave the university numerous opportunities before the story hit the media to change course and do the right thing and support academic freedom and the university decided not to do that,” said Paul Ortiz, the president of UF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida. 

UF Spokesperson Steve Orlando, was not immediately available for comment in time for publication. 

Ortiz sent emails to Ryan Fuller and Chris Hass, members of the general counsel's office, on Oct. 26 urging the university to not go forward with its decision to restrict the rights of the political science professors. Other concerned faculty members asked administration to reverse its decision starting Oct. 13. 

“They just ignored me,” Ortiz said. “I’m very disappointed and I’m embarrassed of the university.”

UF faculty members are graded on three categories: teaching, research and service. Acts of service must be done for the society and this can include helping a professional association, nonprofits, various organizations and different types of volunteer work. If the professors are not doing all three of those things, which would include giving expert testimony, then they are not really doing their job, he said.  

“I would like to know why the University of Florida has tried to stop faculty from doing their jobs,” Ortiz said. 

UF President Fuchs and Provost Joe Glover sent out a mass email Monday to inform the campus community UF stands behind its commitment to uphold the right to free speech and the right to academic freedom.

“If the professors wish to testify pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they are free to do so,” Fuchs and Glover wrote. 

The email also served to inform everyone a task force is being appointed to further investigate the university’s conflict of interest policy. 

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UF’s accreditor opened an investigation into the school’s decision to bar three professors from testifying in the voting rights lawsuit, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

On Tuesday, Fuchs received a letter from 10 U.S. Congress members who expressed their “profound disappointment with the decision to prevent” the three professors from serving as expert witnesses. 

“The decision to prevent their expert testimony clearly infringes on the First Amendment rights of Professors Smith, McDonald and Austin,” the members wrote. 

Congress members like Lois Frankel and Darren Soto also wrote that it is common practice in the legal profession to pay experts when they testify and that their academic freedom should not depend on forgoing payment. 

Goldhagen, a UF professor and pediatrician, was asked to provide his expertise at the end of summer on the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on children, according to The Chronicle report. 

The case was about a lawsuit against the statewide ban on mask mandates. Florida parents and children were the plaintiffs in that case.

Goldhagen was asked to testify in three lawsuits. He participated in two cases as a declarant, and in the third he recommended the attorney to subpoena him, according to The Chronicle. 

Charles Gallagher, the attorney on the case, did not subpoena Goldhagen because Gallagher said there was no time to waste during the preparations for the trial, according to The Chronicle. Gallagher confirmed in the report that the professor would not have been paid. 

UF released a statement Sunday stating the university has “a long track record of supporting free speech,” and that the university denied these requests because the full-time employees would receive compensation for work that is adverse to the university’s interests.

The statement contradicts Gallagher’s denial since he would have been testifying for free, which points to a bigger issue: The case with the three professors is not the first challenge to academic freedom. 

“Challenges to academic freedom at UF … go back to the beginning of this university’s history,” Ortiz said. 

Professors have been fired for criticizing the Confederacy and Robert E. Lee, he said. Faculty in the 1960s have been fired for supporting the Civil Rights Movement.

The past couple of years have been rather difficult with faculty experiencing similar attacks on intellectual freedom, Ortiz said, adding that there have been cases where faculty of color have been targeted because of their work involved with racism. 

He said no one believes the statement UF released, and it simply is not being accepted by anyone. 

“They realize now too late that they have struck a nerve,” he 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 reporting on University news 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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