University of Florida Will Allow Professors to Testify in Lawsuit After Backlash

The University of Florida said Friday that it would allow three professors to testify in a lawsuit against a state law that opponents say impedes voting rights, the Associated Press reported.

The decision changes course from an earlier position that barred Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin from giving expert testimony because it would put the school at odds with Governor Ron DeSantis' administration, which backed the legislation.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs said in a letter to the campus Friday that he was requesting the school office that authorizes outside work for professors to rescind its earlier rejections of the teachers' requests, AP reported. Fuchs specified that the teachers would have to take part in the case on their own time and refrain from using any of the university's resources.

The school's initial refusal to let the professors testify sparked backlash and action from the union for faculty members. The union urged school donors to halt their contributions for the time being and asked artists and scholars to refuse any invitations to the campus until the university upheld the professors' free speech rights, according to AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida Voting Rights March
The University of Florida said Friday that it would allow three professors to testify in a lawsuit against a state law that opponents say impedes voting rights. Above, people hold signs during the March On For Voting Rights on August 28, 2021, in Miami, Florida. Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Not allowing them to testify would be "an attack on all of us," said Paul Ortiz, a history professor who is president of the union chapter at the University of Florida.

The union also had asked the university to issue an apology, affirm its support for voting rights and declare that the school's mission is for the public good.

Fuchs and Provost Joe Glover said in a letter to the campus community earlier this week that the school will immediately appoint a task force "to review the university's conflict of interest policy and examine it for consistency and fidelity."

Also this week, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges told news outlets the organization planned to investigate the university's previous decision to prohibit the professors from testifying.

The University of Florida's president answers to its board of trustees, which has six members appointed by the governor and five appointed by the state university system's board of governors. The board of governors, in turn, has 17 members, 14 of whom are appointed by the Florida governor and confirmed by the state Senate. These offices have been in Republican hands for many years.

DeSantis' office, in a statement earlier this week, denied being behind the decision to block the faculty members' testimony.

University of Florida Professors' Testimony
The University of Florida will reverse an earlier decision that barred three professors from giving expert testimony in a lawsuit against a state law because it would put the school at odds with Governor Ron DeSantis' administration, which backed the legislation. Above, DeSantis speaks during an event to give out bonuses to first responders held at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on August 10, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images