University of Florida controversy; Special legislative session
This week, the University of Florida in Gainesville reversed course after facing criticism for trying to block three professors from testifying as paid experts in a lawsuit challenging the state's new voting rights law.
Political science professors Sharon Wright Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith are all experts in election law. UF's conflict-of-interest office said they could not be paid expert witnesses in the voting-rights lawsuit because their testimony would go against UF’s interest as a state institution, by conflicting with the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In a letter to the university, lawyers representing the professors said that faculty members retain their First Amendment rights to free speech even if their remarks may “make a University’s relationship with funding sources more difficult.”
Since the university’s decision was disclosed in a federal court filing, five more UF professors also came forward to say they had been barred from testifying in other cases or ordered to leave out mentions of the university in court statements.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was one of the 10 Democratic members of Florida’s Congressional delegation to write a letter to the UF president this week, calling on the university to allow the professors to testify.
Amid swirling controversy, UF President Kent Fuchs on Friday asked the office of conflicts of interest to reverse its decision and he has created a taskforce to examine the university's conflict of interest policies.
- Sharon Wright Austin, University of Florida professor
- Michael McDonald, University of Florida professor
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Special legislative session
In the coming weeks, a special legislative session will be gavelled in. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the special session for lawmakers to consider a series of bills inspired by the pandemic. The bills in question would ban companies from requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and strengthen parents' rights to make their own decisions for their children about vaccines and masks.
The one-week session comes on the heels of the Biden Administration's announcing details of a forthcoming federal mandate for companies with at least 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly testing by early next year. DeSantis quickly announced that Florida would join a suit against the federal government over the requirement.
Some Republican lawmakers have cast doubt on how far the Florida Legislature may be willing to go in dealing with private company vaccine mandates. House co-minority leader Democrat Evan Jenne thinks the governor may not get the kind of ban on mandates he wants.