SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 29, 2021

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):University of Florida

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

The University of Florida (UF) reportedly barred three UF professors from testifying as expert witnesses in a lawsuit to protect voting rights, according to a document filed in the case on October 29, 2021.

The lawsuit involves allegations that recently-passed election laws in Florida unconstitutionally discriminate against minority voters, potentially disenfranchising Black, Latinx, and older voters, among others. 

The plaintiffs’ lawyers sought to have the professors, Daniel A. Smith, Michael McDonald, and Sharon Wright Austin, testify as expert witnesses. Smith is the head of the UF Political Science Department, McDonald is an elections scholar, and Austin studies political behavior within the Black community. According to a report by The New York Times, Smith previously testified in two similar lawsuits regarding Florida voting measures.

University officials rejected the request. In one rejection notice, David E. Richardson, the dean of UF’s College of Arts and Sciences, “outside activities may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.” 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about state or university-imposed restrictions on scholars’ right to express themselves publicly, within their fields of expertise, whether within or outside their institutions. Such restrictions violate academic freedom and freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, the United States Constitution, and other relevant instruments. State and university encroachments on academic freedom chill expression on campus and harm democratic society generally.