Eight University of Florida professors have been banned from testifying against state leaders as an expert witnesses in three separate cases in the past year, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The latest incident involves a case in which Florida parents and children are seeking to overturn the state’s ban on school mask mandates.
Jeffrey Goldhagen, a University of Florida professor and pediatrician, was asked by a lawyer for the plaintiffs to testify against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the Florida commissioner of education, the Florida Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Goldhagen was also asked to testify in another school mask case that involved representing the Disability Independence Group in Miami, according to the Times.
The Chronicle reported that Goldhagen, who said he would not receive compensation for the testimony, submitted conflict-of-interest disclosures to the university. The school ultimately denied his requests, according to the Times.
Goldhagen reportedly defied the university by filing declarations as a primary expert in the cases.
“It was difficult for me personally, not to come forward,” Goldhagen told the Times, adding that he broke his silence because he views UF’s ban on his testimony as “a critical, defining issue” for academic freedom and First Amendment rights.
“I don’t think it is hyperbole when I say this is how totalitarian regimes unfold,’’ Goldhagen told the Times. “If you deny science and you deny the universities the critical role they play in American society, then you truncate free speech, academic freedom and the dissemination of information.”
The latest report of a ban on a UF professor’s testimony comes a week after news that the school had barred three professors from serving as expert witnesses in a lawsuit against DeSantis’ voter suppression law.
Swift backlash ensued following the UF’s latest ban on professors, with 10 members of Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation sending a letter on Tuesday to the University of Florida’s president sharply condemning the school’s move. Attorneys for the three UF professors also told CNN that they vow to fight the school’s order.
The University walked back its position somewhat in a statement earlier this week. “If the professors wish to testify pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they are free to do so,” University President Kent Fuchs said. UF also announced a task force to review its policy on professors’ testimony.
Additionally, the agency that sets the accreditation for UF said this week it is investigating whether “academic freedom” and “undue political influence” standards were violated, and the union representing faculty has threatened legal action if the university refuses to reverse its decision.