Last week, University of Florida officials barred three professors from testifying during a lawsuit against the state’s recently enacted voting rights law. This set off a firestorm of criticism, based on the First Amendment and academic freedom grounds, that resulted in school authorities relenting; they will now allow the professors to testify.
This is apparently one instance where academic freedom must be protected, unlike several cases where conservatives have been punished for speaking their minds.
In the University of Florida case, the arguments to prevent the professors from testifying were thin.
Critics have charged — and the governor and the university have denied — that the university has sought to silence professors at the administration’s behest. The professors were told last month that they could not assist plaintiffs in the voting-rights lawsuit because opposing state interests could “create a conflict for the University of Florida.”
The university’s reversal of that stance on Friday came less than a day after Mr. DeSantis’s office had lined up behind the policy, saying in a statement that the professors’ First Amendment right to speak freely was not relevant because they were being paid to act as expert witnesses in the case.
Indeed, a spokeswoman for the governor, Christina Pushaw, said on Thursday before the school’s reversal, “The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but there is no right to profit from speech.”
But the policy has apparently been inconsistently applied.
The lawsuit filed by the professors on Friday took issue with that, stating that other professors had been barred from joining lawsuits against the state even though they were not being paid.
They also noted that Florida International University, which also limits outside activities that conflict with the state, had allowed a professor to act as an expert witness for the Republican National Committee in the same voting-rights lawsuit from which they had been barred.
Governor DeSantis’s decision to side with the school administration, in this case, was ill-considered. Given that the policy had been inconsistently applied previously, DeSantis putting his imprimatur on a policy that was overturned less than 24 hours later may have been ideologically sound but was a political hit he didn’t have to take.
As usual, DeSantis critics overplayed their hands. They tried to paint the policy decision to bar the three professors from testifying as a decision made by DeSantis, or heavily influenced by him. The governor had no input into the decision and only weighed in to support it when the university administrators were being hammered mercilessly in the media.
Where is all this support for “academic freedom” and “First Amendment rights” when a conservative is denied tenure or threatened with being fired for daring to express an un-woke statement?
Related: Look What Happened When a Professor Questioned His University’s Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Efforts
Academic freedom must be universally applied to both right and left. If only one side is “free” and the other side is silenced, there is no freedom at all.
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