WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last Friday, a federal court filing revealed that the University of Florida (UF) is prohibiting three of its professors from testifying in a case challenging Florida’s new voter suppression law, Senate Bill 90. The professors, Daniel A. Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Wright Austin, had submitted requests to UF in order to testify as experts in Florida Rising Together v. Lee, a case brought by civil rights organizations challenging multiple provisions of S.B. 90. The professors sought to provide testimony on how the new law may burden voters of color in Florida, among other topics. The university rejected the requests, writing that testifying about S.B. 90 poses a “conflict of interest” because, since “UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.” This decision resulted in a wave of backlash, particularly given that the “university has routinely allowed academic experts to offer expert testimony in lawsuits, even when they oppose the interests of the political party in power.” A New York Times article reported that the plaintiffs and professors are questioning whether UF acted under pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) given that he has close ties to some of UF’s faculty. In response to public outcry, UF released a statement on Saturday, Oct. 30, stating that professors would still be allowed to testify if they were not compensated for their work, even though this was not stated in their initial rejection of the professors’ requests.
Passing S.B. 90 was a priority for DeSantis and Florida Republicans during the state’s last legislative session, despite the fact that Florida’s 2020 election had no issues according to DeSantis himself. This is not the first time Florida’s public colleges and universities have been the target of free speech restrictions this year — the state passed a law in June requiring students and faculty to report their political views in an effort to monitor “intellectual diversity” on campus, which is being challenged in federal court.