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Friday, March 01, 2024

Giving Gators boycott donations to UF following academic freedom controversy

UF alumni take to Twitter with decisions to halt donations in response to university’s actions

Emerson Alumni Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.
Emerson Alumni Hall is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

More than 440 UF alumni, students and concerned citizens signed a petition to pause contributions to UF after the university barred professors from testifying against the state. 

UF alumni expressed their disagreement with UF in tweets that announced their decision to halt donations until the university was back on the “right side of academic freedom,” said Paul Ortiz, United Faculty of Florida president. 

The reaction was not organized by the union, but instead was a spontaneous decision made by former Gators. However, UFF’s list of demands addressed to the university following the controversy includes a section advising donors to withhold donations until UF complies with the listed demands. This came after individuals had already stated they would halt their donations, Ortiz said. 

This fiscal year, one in five alumni contributed to the university, making UF one of the top public universities for alumni giving. Contributions like these help fund research and student education. Alumni giving accounts for 3% of U.S. News’ ranking criteria, making UF’s position as a top-five public university also dependent on the number of alumni donors who give annually.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Florida gubernatorial candidate for 2022, posted a petition on Twitter Nov. 2. An alumna herself, Fried asked fellow Gators to sign the petition if they agreed and withhold donations until UF President Kent Fuchs reversed course.

“I had been on text-message chains with alumni from all across the country, from numerous generations of alumni,” Fried said. “We were all bouncing ideas back and forth of what we could do to reverse the course, and as soon as I sent them the letter, they distributed it to all of their networks, so we received, instantaneously, lots of signatures.”  

As a triple Gator, former Student Body president and now a member of the law school board of trustees, Fried said she bleeds orange and blue. The university’s decision to bar the professors from providing testimony left her and other alumni heartbroken and disappointed, she said.

“I was angry and felt that anger from alumni from all across the country,” Fried said. “Which is what motivated me to want to lead again on this issue and reach out to alumni and draft that letter standing up for academic freedom, standing up for the institution that I love.” 

Her petition was signed by more than 440 UF alumni, students and concerned citizens whose names were included in a Nov. 5 tweet and sent to Fuchs. He did not respond to the signed letter as of Tuesday.

David Feinman, a UF alumnus and government affairs director of Conservation Lands Foundation, signed Fried’s petition. He also posted his own decision to withhold donations on Twitter

Feinman donates to UF at the end of each year through the alumni association. Since his graduation in 2005, he estimates his total donations to be between $3,000 and $4,000.

He also had a planned gift that gave to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the political science department each year for five years. His donations helped fund scholarships for students in the departments. 

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This five-year gift ended in 2020, but Feinman intended to extend this gift up until UF’s academic freedom controversy. 

Feinman said he takes pride in his experience at UF and wants to give back as much as he can. However, he found the university’s recent decision disturbing.

“I feel that the flagship university and now, one of the top five public universities in the country, serves, it should serve, in my view, the public interest,” Feinman said. 

Although he is not a high-value donor or Bull Gator, he went about his decision the same way he would a particular political candidate or company that made a decision he disagreed with: withholding his checkbook. 

As Fuchs asked the university to reverse its decision, Feinman said he will reconsider his decision. 

“I think I might wait until I actually see that these professors are actually allowed to engage in providing testimony the way that they asked to,” Feinman said. 

Fried echoed this caution. She advised alumni to “keep resilient and to keep an eye on the task force the president created.” 

UF owes its success to its student body and its professors and researchers who are at the top of their field, Feinman said. These professors should be allowed to contribute to legal and policy processes for the public interest. 

“If we’re going to brag about being in the top five of public universities, we should act like it and truly allow the greatness of our university to contribute at that level to all of the important issues they can impact,” Feinman said. 

Now that UF has reversed course, alumni are left to decide what to do with their wallets. 

Contact Emma Behrmann at Follow her on Twitter @emmabehrmann.

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Emma Behrmann

Emma Behrmann is a fourth-year journalism major and the Fall 2023 digital managing editor. In the past, she was metro desk editor, K-12 education reporter and a university news assistant. When she's not reporting, she's lifting at the gym.

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