Some University of Florida faculty feel pressure to keep quiet, or else align themselves with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), on sensitive issues like race and COVID-19, according to a new report from a faculty committee at the school.
The university found itself at the center of national higher-education news in late October, when information emerged that the university had barred three professors from testifying in a civil case against new voting restrictions in the state. Soon, more accounts of censorship surfaced at the university.
School officials ultimately backed off of the voting rights lawsuit prohibition, but UF, one of the largest universities by enrollment in the country, still faces a lawsuit from the affected professors. Separately, an education professor, Chris Busey, has alleged in a grievance that faculty were told they should not use the words “critical” and “race” in concentration descriptions.
The new report, from an ad hoc Faculty Senate committee on academic freedom, was released Monday and subsequently flagged by the Tampa Bay Times. A university spokesperson declined to comment.
The report detailed an atmosphere of self-censorship amid uncertainty about retaliation, as well as direct obstacles to academic work, particularly on race and COVID-19.
“Some examples of challenges reported to the ad hoc committee include external pressure to destroy deidentified data, barriers to accessing and analyzing deidentified data in a timely manner, and barriers to publication of scientific research which, taken together, inhibited the ability of faculty to contribute scientific findings during a world-wide pandemic,” the report found.
Among other things, the committee noted “Reports that University of Florida employees were told verbally not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to Covid-19 in media interactions.”
“There is a palpable feeling of fear among tenured and non-tenured COM faculty of reprisal if they speak out on these issues,” the report said later, referring to College of Medicine faculty who wish to comment publicly about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Concern was expressed by some faculty interviewed that COM/UF Health facility expansion funding in the state would be in jeopardy if the state administrative branch policy on pandemic regulations were not followed in opinion articles by medical faculty,” the report added.
Aside from COVID-19 concerns, the report also suggested the allegations from Professor Busey about the use of the words “critical” and “race” wasn’t a one-off incident.
“Comments were provided that websites were required to be changed, that course syllabi had to be restructured, and that use of the terms ‘critical’ and ‘race’ could not appear together in the same sentence or document,” the report said.
Separately, the report referred to anonymous faculty claims that content from websites and curricula were asked to be removed, delayed or altered — and that “In reported cases, the reason for such requests appeared to be that such content conflicted with a position taken by political actors or factions within the State government.”