Tallahassee, FL - Alleging violations of First Amendment rights, six University of Florida professors on Friday asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against a policy at the center of a controversy about faculty members serving as expert witnesses.
Attorneys for the professors filed a motion for a preliminary injunction as part of a lawsuit filed last month against the university. The controversy has drawn national attention since a disclosure that the university blocked political-science professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith from serving as expert witnesses for groups challenging a new state elections law.
The university later walked back the decision to prevent the professors from testifying in the high-profile case, but the controversy has continued. Austin, McDonald and Smith filed the First Amendment lawsuit and were later joined by three other faculty members.
The lawsuit focuses, at least in part, on a university conflict-of-interest policy, which Friday’s motion alleged “provides the university unbridled discretion to restrict faculty speech on public issues based on impermissible considerations that have nothing to do with faculty integrity or discipline.” The motion said the plaintiffs will “suffer irreparable injury” if the policy is not enjoined.
“Professors at the University of Florida are leaders in their academic fields who are asked to provide expert testimony in cases that are at the center of the public debate on key issues impacting people in the state of Florida and across the country,” the motion said. “Allowing the policy to remain in place stifles the free flow of those vital debates and tips the litigation in favor of the state.”
The motion came on the same day that university trustees criticized the professors and backed UF President Kent Fuchs.
“The overwhelming majority of our faculty are here for the reason we are, to educate, research, serve the University of Florida as their employer,” trustees Chairman Mori Hosseini said during a board meeting. “However, we saw that some have taken advantage of their positions. I am speaking here of faculty members taking second jobs using the university’s state resources for their own personal gain. I am speaking about faculty members who use their position of authority to improperly advocate personal political viewpoints to the exclusion of others.”
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