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Friday, March 01, 2024

UF’s conflict of interest task force passes final report one week early

The task force finalized its policy recommendations during six-minute meeting Monday

UF President Kent Fuchs’ Task Force on Outside Activities agreed to pass its policy and process recommendations in a meeting Monday, a week before its proposed deadline.

The task force planned to have seven meetings between Nov. 12 and Nov. 29 to address issues with UF’s written policies on disclosure of outside activities and conflict of interest. The university had faced backlash for limiting eight professors from testifying in lawsuits against the state.

On its fifth meeting, the task force members unanimously voted in favor of passing the final report to Fuchs Monday afternoon.

UF would not disclose the final report immediately, but Fuchs is expected to make it public Tuesday.

Clay Calvert, College of Journalism and Communications professor and task force member, said he believes the group created a very detailed and significant policy recommendation grounded in First Amendment principles.

If UF implements these policy recommendations, Calvert said he hopes it prioritizes its commitment to the public interest through faculty expert testimonies. He said the school should uphold that a viewpoint of an individual is not necessarily a conflict of interest and that there are no outside influences affecting these decisions.

“I think we’ve done a good job here and I just hope that those higher level principles are kept in mind as the policy, if it is indeed adopted, is actually enforced,” he said.

With the meeting lasting only six minutes, UF Provost Joe Glover said he would be sending the final report to Fuchs via email to look over Monday afternoon.

In last week’s meetings, the task force had finalized discussions on the process the university uses to receive outside activity requests for expert witness testimony. It also began organizing and revising a draft of the final report.

The draft included an introductory portion providing context on the task force, its purpose, duties and the questions it needed to address in its meetings. It also includes a process document detailing recommendations on outside activity requests. Finally, it contained the policy recommendations the members had discussed over the past 14 days.

Following the recommendations, the policy needs to affirm the academic freedom of faculty and their First Amendment right to free speech on matters of public concern. It also asks that such public comments are not considered outside activities when made as individual citizens. 

Members of the task force voiced their concerns with some of the wording and material in the draft. They talked about changing the term of the faculty members on the Advisory Committee from two to three years. They think this would help ensure a balance between faculty and administrators. 

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The task force also talked about issues with defining conflict of commitment in one of the policy recommendations.

Hub Brown, College of Journalism and Communications Dean and task force member, said he believes the university is better off now after having these conversations and addressing the First Amendment right issues with UF’s conflict of interest policy.

“I am very, very happy with where we are,” Brown said. 

Contact Camila Pereira at Follow her on Twitter @CamilaSaPereira.

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Camila Pereira

Camila is a third-year journalism student and the administration reporter on the university desk. When she is not reporting for The Alligator, Camila is always listening to music and probably drinking honey milk tea.

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