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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Congressional subcommittee announces investigation into UF’s academic freedom scandal

The Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties asked UF to turn over documents

The University of Florida's Century tower, as viewed from Newell Drive on Thursday, July 22, 2021. The tower commemorates UF students who fought and died in World War I and World War II -- the tower also commemorates the 100th anniversary of UF's founding in 1853.
The University of Florida's Century tower, as viewed from Newell Drive on Thursday, July 22, 2021. The tower commemorates UF students who fought and died in World War I and World War II -- the tower also commemorates the 100th anniversary of UF's founding in 1853.

Tensions over UF’s decision to bar three political science professors from testifying in a case against the state continued Thursday, as a congressional subcommittee announced an investigation into whether UF violated the first amendment.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Jamie Raskin sent a letter to UF President Kent Fuchs Thursday expressing their deep concern about the recent challenges to academic freedom at the university. The House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which is part of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, will be investigating the extent UF has undermined the integrity of academic freedom, according to the letter. 

“For a top-five public university to not allow nationally and internationally renowned experts to use that expertise to help make public action better, it flies in the face of the mission of the public university,” Schultz said. 

In the letter, Schultz and Raskin requested documents and communications regarding the creation of UF’s conflicts-of-interest policy and its denials of faculty requests to engage in outside activities. They have requested this information be sent to the committee by Dec. 2. 

UF received the letter and is preparing a response to send back, UF spokesperson Hessy Fernandez wrote in an email. 

The congressional subcommittee will take a hard look at the information UF sends them, Schultz said. The committee exists to shine light on opacity in institutional administration and can help expose bad policies, she said.  

UF also owes documents to its accrediting body around the same time in order to comply with its accreditation investigation sparked by the same issues. 

“We are also concerned that, possibly due to pressure from trustees, politicians, or others, UF has adopted and enforced a conflicts policy that undermines the academic and free speech values that are essential to American higher education,” the Congress members wrote in a press release.

This is not the first time Congress expressed concern about the unfolding situation. Fuchs received his first letter from Congress Nov. 2 in which 10 Congress members wrote to inform him of their “profound disappointment with the decision to prevent” the three professors from providing expert testimony. That same week, five additional professors publicly acknowledged UF limiting their abilities to testify in separate cases.

Schultz said their main concern now is their suspicions of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ heavy hand over the university and its decisions. This concern is the “driving force behind the need” to send this second letter and open an investigation, she said. 

Four out of the 13 board of trustees at UF have direct political ties to the governor. The school has been taking heat for following the governor’s lead on controversial COVID-19 policies.

The conflicts-of-interest policy needs to be reversed for the entire university, Schultz said, not just the three professors. She hopes Fuchs’ task force will come to this conclusion. 

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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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