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Since at least March of 2020, the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees, President Kent Fuchs, and Provost Joe Glover appear to be operating under the undue influence, real or imagined, of a chain of command that has communicated outside the sunshine. This chain of command extends from Governor Ron Desantis and the Florida State Legislature to the State University System Board of Governors. The concrete and visible result of this undue influence has been a series of botched decisions endangering the University of Florida community and compromising its mission as a world-class educational institution.

President Fuchs, Provost Glover, and the trustees’ anticipatory obedience, their pre-emptive rush to please the prevailing political powers — even in the apparent absence of any concrete orders — has produced a cavalier and inhumane response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its response to this crisis, the University failed to extend its mask mandate when COVID case rates were surging as a result of the Delta variant, it declined ADA accommodation requests by employees with disabilities, and it refused to authorize faculty teaching in person to require from students attending in person either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours. These actions needlessly put students, employees, and the Gainesville community in harm’s way.       

President Fuchs and Provost Glover’s most recent botched decision was to prevent University of Florida faculty from providing paid expert testimony in cases that challenge state laws or executive orders. The best known of these prohibitions involves three Political Science faculty, Drs. Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald, and Daniel Smith, who were barred from offering paid testimony in a case that challenges a new Florida state law restricting voting access. In addition, the University has barred at least four others from providing similar services, including a UF pediatrician who agreed to testify, pro bono, against an order prohibiting mask and vaccine mandates. These experts were denied the ability to perform these services on the dubious grounds that, as state employees, their participation in these suits is adverse to the University’s interest as an arm of the executive branch of the State of Florida.

The University’s actions are a clear violation of the affected faculty members’ academic freedom and free speech rights. They represent a clear violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the University of Florida and the UF chapter of the University of Florida, which governs working conditions for Drs. Austin, McDonald, and Smith. Perhaps most importantly, they set a dangerous – indeed, intolerable – precedent, suggesting that when UF employees receive payment for their expertise, their words and actions must closely align with the interests of prevailing political ideologies in the State of Florida.

Many motivations have been suggested for the UF administration’s unfortunate decisions:  pandering to ensure state largesse and UF’s rise in US News rankings, fear of actual or imagined retaliation, or the convenient use of rumored external threats to internally silence voices and consolidate power. All of these motivations have one thing in common: they are ethically corrupt, inconsistent with a public higher education institution’s mission as a place of free inquiry, and will seriously compromise UF’s reputation.

These botched decisions by University administrators, moreover, are part of a broader pattern of action by state and University authorities that seeks to curtail academic freedom and manipulate the University for political ends. Over the past several months, the state legislature has passed legislation that seeks to prevent our K-12 colleagues – including educators at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School – from accurately describing the history of racial oppression in the United States and beyond. It has passed legislation that permits students to record instructors without their consent. It has passed legislation that subjects faculty to a mandatory survey of their political and ideological views. And, citing foreign interference and theft of intellectual property at research universities, it has passed draconian legislation to police faculty outside activities, including their interactions with designated “countries of concern.”

University administrators, meanwhile, have violated the University’s appointment and tenure protocols in their efforts to fast-track Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo for a faculty position. They have violated their stated commitments to sustainability by announcing the construction of a methane-fired power plant. And, following the example of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, they are now rumored to be considering an assault on tenure.

For decades, University administration has used the power of the purse to quietly silence ideas that are inconvenient to its interests — divesting from humanities, arts, and social science education while slowly rendering the academic workforce more precarious. These strategies have impoverished our understanding of the world and compromised the quality of education we provide to our students. Yet, for University administration, these quiet attacks clearly did not go far enough. Now, the administration is pursuing a clear strategy to explicitly censor inconvenient speech – to ban frank discussions of racism, to encourage students to record faculty comments that they find distasteful, to pry into faculty members’ private views, to remove protections on our academic freedom, and to ban us from receiving compensation for our expertise in controversial matters of public concern. 

These actions represent an attack on the quality and integrity of the education we provide; and they represent an assault on our rights as scholars and workers. For these reasons, the United Faculty of Florida at the University of Florida declares that it has no confidence in the   University’s administration and trustees. We call upon the administration to reverse course on the actions enumerated above or to resign. We demand the following:


For University of Florida Administration:

  1. The University must allow Drs. Austin, McDonald, and Smith — as well as other faculty affected by similar prohibitions — to provide paid expert testimony related to Florida state legislation that restricts voting access or on any other topic related to their expertise.

    The University must also issue a formal apology to faculty affected by these prohibitions for violating their academic freedom and their rights as workers.
  2. University administration must affirm that it will not interfere with the right of any employee to exercise their conscience, academic freedom, free speech rights, and expertise in an expert witness context, regardless of whether they receive payment for their expertise.
  3. UF must affirm its support for voting rights and commit to opposing ongoing efforts to suppress voting rights in the state of Florida.
  4. UF must formally declare that the University’s mission to serve the public good is independent of the transitory political interests of state officeholders. Instead, UF should uphold its mission statement as the prime directive for all University activities. 
  1. UF should, in light of its clear inability to responsibly use employee-provided information on outside activities and conflicts of interest, suspend the requirement that employees report this information via the UFOLIO system. 

For University of Florida Donors:

  1. Donors should withhold donations to UF until the University complies with the first four demands above.

    If donors choose to withhold donations, they should clearly express why they have chosen to withhold their donations and indicate what the University can do to regain their confidence.   

For Educational Leaders: 

  1. The American Association of Universities (AAU), the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), or a comparable, independent body with no formal ties to the State of Florida, should immediately initiate an official investigation into the University of Florida’s treatment of Drs. Austin, McDonald, and Smith as well as the University’s broader policies on both academic freedom and outside activities.
  2. Until the university meets the demands above, presidents and provosts of other colleges and universities should downgrade their assessment of the University of Florida’s reputation when surveyed by US News and World Report. A university that restricts its employees’ speech rights, academic freedom, and labor rights is unworthy of a Top Five public university ranking.

When assessing UF’s reputation, presidents and provosts of other colleges and universities should also consider UF’s dangerous, inhumane response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its poor commitment to environmental sustainability, as well as the state’s broader attacks on employees’ speech rights, academic freedom, and labor rights.

  1. Academic professional associations should call out University of Florida for its infringement of academic experts’ right to engage freely in public discourse and be compensated for applying their expertise towards the public good. 
  1. Accrediting agencies should investigate and revisit the University of Florida’s accreditation. A university that lacks strong protections for employees’ speech rights, academic freedom, tenure, and labor rights is incapable of providing a world-class education.

For Artists, Scholars, and Intellectuals:

  1. Artists, scholars, and intellectuals who are invited to perform at the University of Florida should decline these invitations until the University complies with our academic freedom demands. When declining an invitation to appear at the University, invitees should clearly specify why they are declining the invitation and, if they are active on social media, should use the hashtag #NotAtUF.

For Our Faculty Colleagues:

  1. The UF Faculty Senate should introduce and pass a resolution affirming this list of demands. As institutions of shared governance that represent the interests of UF faculty, we must speak with one voice. 

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners urges UF to “join the County, the School Board, the City of Gainesville and our local businesses in instituting the common sense safety measures spelled out in the County’s Short-Term Emergency Order 21-25. It simply requires masking indoors.”

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions…. I ought to go upright and vital and speak the rude truth in all ways.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)


Dear Colleagues,

Congratulations on completing one of the most challenging years in the history of our university. Despite the extreme stress of the global pandemic as well as numerous outside attacks on the integrity of higher education, our chapter came together, and we supported each other from start to finish. We received international gratitude for our strong stances in defense of intellectual freedom and for our work on behalf of the rights of faculty, staff, and students to work and study in safe environments.  

Our union has many accomplishments to be proud of. Our Bargaining Team successfully negotiated a Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2021-2024. Our Grievance Team handled a record number of grievances on matters ranging from Critical Race Theory to workplace safety, and its skillful work was discussed in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other leading publications. 

UFF-UF’s Membership Team continued to recruit new members even as the pandemic made office visits more difficult than ever. Our members spoke out against anti-Asian racism in higher education. We assisted the efforts of campus staff to unionize, and we passed a resolution in support of the Alachua County NAACP’s efforts to bring cleaner energy to our campus. 

As one local union that is part of a growing number of higher education unions that make up the United Faculty of Florida, we spoke out consistently against the efforts of some legislators to take the state back to the days of the repressive Johns Committee era.  We also joined a coalition of retired faculty, UF alumni, graduate students and others to participate in #Free UF’s spring semester teach-in on academic freedom in March. 

UFF-UF has become a role model for educators’ unions across the nation. We were invited to tell our story at the Higher Education Labor United’s Winter 2022 Summit and the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions’ Race, History & Academic Freedom Teach-In. We were interviewed by the American Association of University Professors AAUP Presents Podcast, and the Florida Education Association’s Educating from the Heart podcast among other statewide and national venues. 

Even as we were in the process of submitting our final grades, year-end reports and personnel packets, we joined our voices to an important campus petition, titled “Transgender Healthcare Should be Based on Medical Best Practice, not Ideology.” This petition asserts that, “The LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and staff at UF and the LGBTQIA+ children and adolescents in their families deserve state policies that respect their rights to healthcare. It is incumbent on us to speak up when academic authority is misused to facilitate state sponsored harm to children and adolescents by attacking their rights (and those of their parents) to healthcare.” Please sign this petition if you have not already done so.

Speaking as a historian, I believe that the work of UFF-UF officers, delegates, volunteers, and allies during the global pandemic will be remembered as among the finest moments of unionism this nation has ever witnessed.  Under duress and constantly bullying by forces outside of our campus, we continued to grow as a union. We also continued to support a plethora of causes that the membership believes are essential to sustaining a democratic society. I believe that UFF’s consistent and public support of academic freedom was a factor in the federal court’s preliminary injunction against UF’s repressive speech policies in January. 

Our struggles are far from finished. Members of the Florida State Legislature continued their assault on the First Amendment by passing House Bill 7, the so-called “Stop Woke Act.” I have viewed the video that UF produced in response to HB7, and like you I am disturbed by its potential to chill academic freedom.  We trust that UF’s administration will interpret HB 7 as narrowly as possible, and that they will work with us to ensure that academic freedom and the mission of our university is protected.  Meanwhile, our chapter is working with UFF and other affiliates to determine how to best respond to this and other assaults from Tallahassee. This battle is far from over. In a recent editorial in response to governmental overreach in education, the Gainesville Sun wrote: “University of Florida alumni and students need to push back against political interference in university operations if they want to protect the value of their degrees.” We have already been contacted by a wide variety of groups across the political spectrum who agree that the “Stop Woke Act” is an egregious violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. HB7 is an election-year ploy that is already on life-support. 

I have taught, written, and received grants on subjects including the intersections of African American and Latinx history as well as racism, colonialism, and the Holocaust for over twenty years in my capacity as a university professor. I am currently finishing an essay for a peer-reviewed journal on the 1920 Ocoee, Florida Election Day Massacre, an event that the state of Florida now requires all 67 school districts to teach about. 

Unfortunately, some very powerful interests in our society do not want the citizenry to learn our history or about ways to bridge the divisions that continue to plague our nation. (Historically speaking, undemocratic governments find it easier to manage a divided population than a united one.)  My book An African American and Latinx History of the United States, along with other authors’ books on gender and sexuality, have been banned in states where authoritarianism is on the rise.  Fortunately, community organizations are beginning to push back against this repression.

As a classroom instructor, I am not going to allow HB 7 from offering my students the best, most advanced scholarship on racism, inequality, and related fields. HB 7 will have zero impact on my research, public speaking, or on my syllabi, lesson plans— or my approach to teaching critical thinking skills in these areas. In the fall, I am teaching my African Diaspora in the Americas class, a course I have taught since I was an assistant professor. I invite Governor Ron DeSantis to audit or to visit my class anytime he is back in Florida. One caveat: the class requires a ton of reading, Mr. Governor! 

I am continuing with the teaching strategies I learned from my graduate school mentors at Duke because they work. My former students have achieved success at the highest levels. They have matriculated to law schools including Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Pennsylvania because they have received outstanding training in critical race theory at the University of Florida. Our former students include doctors, teachers, and entrepreneurs who work in minority and immigrant communities because somewhere along the way a professor or a teacher taught them ways to address systemic racism. 

Many of our alumni pursue careers as police officers, principals, labor organizers and social workers because a resourceful instructor or two replaced the cynicism of pop culture with the values of intellectual inquiry and moral responsibility that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed were needed make equality for all a possibility, and not a pipe dream. 

We cannot allow ourselves to be driven by the politics of fear back to a time when discussions of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and other forms of oppression were silenced to maintain the power of white supremacy, one-party rule, and Black disenfranchisement in places like Florida, a state that suffered the highest per capita rate of lynching in the United States for over six decades. 

As a predominantly white land-grand institution that benefited from the massive expropriation (theft) of land from Native Americans as well as the labor of enslaved African Americans to establish our university’s foundations in 1853, the University of Florida has a special responsibility to forthrightly deal with issues of race and inequality; this is not a matter of pointing fingers, it is a matter of simple justice. I am not going to allow any fearmonger or tyrant prevent me from pursuing what Emerson called the “rude truths” in US history. 

Speaking for myself, I would sooner resign from the University of Florida than betray the trust that victims of racial terrorism in Ocoee, Holocaust survivors or men who endured the Bataan Death March in WWII have placed in me as an oral historian to share their stories with the public, regardless of how disturbing these stories are or how they might make others feel. 

Thanks to Article Ten of our Collective Bargaining Contract, “Academic Freedom and Responsibility,” I don’t have to make such a difficult decision. My right to pursue my research, teaching, and service is guaranteed within the parameters of rigorous, academic practice and labor law. Being a union member allows me to strive to be the kind of intellectual that pursues Emerson’s “rude truths” wherever my research takes me. Being a member of the United Faculty of Florida allowed me to freely provide research support to the legislative team that created the Ocoee Massacre remembrance bill—HB 1213—a bill that Governor Ron DeSantis signed last year. 

While we are awaiting further guidance from UFF statewide, our Membership team is beginning to organize an informational town hall for later in the month of May to specifically address next steps in response to HB7 and other measures that threaten to severely degrade higher education in the Sunshine State for our students and our communities. Our statewide president, Andrew Gothard has pledged to join us for this event. Please be on the lookout for further details. 

A successful Spring Membership Dinner

For the first time in over two years, our chapter was able to hold our annual Membership Dinner and union elections in person. Many thanks to past president Steve Kirn who worked diligently to find a wonderful venue and catering service for the event. Due to the remarkable era that we have come through, we decided to implement annual awards to recognize members who stepped up in myriad ways to make our union stronger. 

We also recognized committee members who have served during the bulk of the era of the global pandemic. What an inspiring evening! I am now honored to be able to re-introduce our inaugural chapter awardees as well as committee members who have revitalized our union in countless ways. 

United Faculty of Florida, UFF-UF 2021-2022 Inaugural Chapter Awards

Member of the Year Award 

      Chris Busey

At-Large UFF Member of the Year: 

Brantlee Spakes Richter 

Courageous Leadership Award (In Unit)

Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald, Dan Smith

Courageous Leadership Award (Out of Unit)

Mark Hostetler

Retired Activist of the Year:

Steve Kirn

Lifetime Service Award: 

     Tom Auxter


Officers/Executive Committee

     Paul Ortiz              Martin Sorbille

     Kole Odutola          Tim Murtha

     Jorg Peters             Sean Trainor

     Meera Sitharam      Angela Bacsik

     Oscar Crisalle         Susan Hegeman

Grievance Committee

      Churchill Roberts        John Biro

       Oscar Crisalle            John Leavey

        Tim Murtha               Maria Coady

Bargaining Committee

      Helene Huet          William “Bill” Keegan

      Lisa Scott                Rosanne Resende 

      Oscar Crisalle         Meera Sitharam

      Macy Geiger           John Bourn

      Sean Trainor

Article 6 Team

      Raul Sanchez              Susan Hegeman

       Elizabeth Dale           Jorg Peters

COVID Task Force

      Rachel Hartnett             Rori Bloom

      Elizabeth Dale              Sharon Austin

      Steve Kirn

Membership Committee

       Moon Lee

       Ashley Nguyen

       Sixue Chen Andria Doty

Communication Committee

      Susan Hegeman

Government Relations Committee

      Stan Kaye 

Nominations Committee

Renata Serra

Leah Rosenberg

This coming week, the University of Florida will be joining other public institutions of higher learning in Florida in distributing an ideological viewpoint survey. This survey requests all faculty, staff, and students respond and share not only their own political and religious viewpoints, but what they perceive to be the viewpoints of their friends, colleagues, and classmates.

The United Faculty of Florida encourages all higher education faculty, staff, and students to ignore the voluntary “Viewpoint Discrimination” survey for the following reasons:

  1. Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community. Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.
  2. Ignoring this survey is an act that protects individuals of all political persuasions, now and into the future. This survey would not pass ‘validity tests’ in any institutional review process, as there is no way to ensure that responses will reflect the demographics of the institution. It is not worthy of time away from our teaching and research.
  3. The specificity of the survey’s demographic questions allows for targeting of faculty, particularly faculty of color, and can be used to attack tenure.
  4. Many of the survey’s questions are leading in nature and imply that there is a problem of viewpoint fairness on our campuses already–this is a conclusion searching for evidence, rather than the other way around.
  5. Many of the survey’s questions ask respondents to report on what they believe their colleagues and students think and how they are behaving on campus. Surveillance has no place in Florida’s higher education system.
  6. The survey will cause a chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of association on campus because faculty, staff, and students will be wondering whether their words and deeds will be reported to those in power.
  7. Governor DeSantis and other legislators have threatened to defund or otherwise punish campuses whose responses do not match the appropriate ideology. This is not a standard of leadership or behavior that any member of Florida’s higher education community should support.


For these reasons and more, UFF discourages participation in the survey, and we encourage you and all members of the Florida higher education system to join our fight to protect the freedoms of the faculty, staff, and students who make our campuses such wonderful places to live, learn, and grow.

UFF, your faculty union, has been fighting this law since it was first proposed. Now our fight is in federal court, and one of our main concerns has been that by its very nature this survey is an infringement upon the basic rights of all Floridians to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the basic right to privacy, regardless of a person’s background or political persuasion and without intimidation from the political party currently in power. Join us! We are stronger together.

Please follow this link to RSVP by April 13.

When: April 20, 2022, from 5:30 – 8:30 pm

Where:: Cypress & Grove Brewing Company, 1001 NW 4th St. Gainesville

Event: UFF-UF Annual Spring Dinner and affirmation of Chapter Election results. Come dressed and ready to impress! All UFF-UF members are invited – please feel welcome to bring your family and friends!

There will be a buffet dinner as well as provided drinks. We plan to follow all health protocols, within the limits of group dining. We believe we can make this a safe, joyful celebration, where we can again come together!

COVID-19 policies further threaten UF’s reputation and relationship with faculty

Steven Kirn

Click here to read the full article on The Alligator.

I am a retired member of the UF faculty — College of Business. Although these are my own views, I write this based on my experience as co-chair of the COVID Task Force of the United Faculty of Florida – UF Chapter and UF Graduate Assistants United. 

The task force was formed in Spring 2020 to provide a focal point for concerns over the then-new (and not well understood) coronavirus. We hoped to be equal partners with the college’s administration and government leaders. Through surveys and interviews, we learned a great deal about how faculty members personally experienced these challenging times.

The administration had to devise an appropriate campus management strategy, which led to students studying remotely. Faculty and graduate assistants quickly pivoted to online instruction, and staff stepped up to support the new workload (not easy). At that time, for better or worse, we were “all in this together.” Later, not so much.

As Fall 2020 progressed, there was increasing divergence on many issues between faculty/GA requests and demands and the response of the UF administration. UF announced Spring 2021 plans to return to on-campus learning, offering as many (or more) in-person class sections as were originally scheduled — even though there was no vaccine available at the time. 

Faculty and GAs raised grave concerns about the spread of virus on campus. Their requests for accommodation or exemption from teaching in-person were often denied, and considerations of effective teaching requirements were regularly ignored. Faculty and GAs rightfully felt ignored and disenfranchised.

A foundational concept of a “university” is that of a community of scholars (and students) sharing governance with an administration. Many faculty feel that this shared governance covenant has been violated in favor of an increasingly expansive administrative structure, apparently beholden to corporate and political interests.

Faculty are also disappointed about what they see as unfulfilled expectations after joining UF.  This is a common theme among both new faculty and long-term members. They have expressed a sense of isolation, obviously exacerbated by necessary COVID-19 protocols (or sometimes a lack thereof).

Several experienced faculty members say they are actively looking for positions at other institutions — ones that are seen as more participative and open. UF cannot afford to lose droves of valuable faculty members. They provide quality and substance to a school that wouldn’t be successful without them — “Top Five” status or not.

People are, simply put, tired. This has been an extraordinary time, and faculty/GAs have been asked to make extraordinary shifts in instructional design and plans, including reversals — even against their own advice and concern. While faculty/GAs have tried to do what is needed for both students and their own professional commitment, exhaustion takes a toll.

Finally, faculty were profoundly offended by the remarks by the UF Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He publicly berated faculty members as selfish and disloyal, mixing issues of faculty freedom of speech and COVID-19 policy compliance. This further compounded a sense of exclusion from faculty’s role in policy and governance, leading to an added sense of being disrespected.

UF’s reputation is under threat. There is a serious breakdown of trust and faith in the school’s academic governing process, the very concept of collegiality and respect for the role of faculty.

It will take years to repair the damage.

Click here to sign the petition!

Click here to view the full petition text with signatures.

We, the undersigned faculty of the University of Florida, support the University of Florida’s written commitment and recent statements affirming academic freedom as a core component of a top-ranked educational institution.  To that end we applaud the reversal of the decision to deny the three political scientists the opportunity to testify and provide expert assistance in the voting rights case.

 The core of academic freedom and free speech is the protection, support, and enhancement of faculty in all aspects of their job:  teaching, research, and service.

 We stand for and support the United Faculty of Florida – University of Florida (UFF-UF)’s demands in the 5 November statement. In addition, we call for the following actions from the University, consistent with the core mission of the university and to restore the justified stature and recognition of the university as a top-five public university and research institution:

 1.   Provide full support of external service activities of faculty, including expert testimony, participation in amicus briefs, or public policy input in connection with their expertise.

2.    Recognize that, for purposes of the University’s conflict of interest policy, a conflict is any activity that conflicts with the University’s mission to be “a diverse community dedicated to excellence in education and research and shaping a better future for Florida, the nation and the world” and which interferes with teaching, scholarship, or service in pursuit of that mission.

3.   Faculty activity that furthers the mission of the University should not be prohibited by the conflict of interest policy because it is adverse to the interests of the political leadership of the state of Florida or any political perspective or point of view.

4.   Cease efforts to terminate courses, change course names, or in any way impact directly or indirectly course content that might be perceived as objectionable. The university must reverse any decisions, advice or warnings where such action has already been taken and commit to comprehensive support for the faculty’s teaching mission consistent with the principles of academic freedom.  This is not limited to but must include courses or parts of courses that address race, racial history and racial justice.

5.   Provide comprehensive support for course development and teaching content that is based on the faculty member’s expertise.

 6.   Provide support for faculty research and bar any actions intended to control the content, dissemination, or sharing of such research with third parties seeking their expertise.

7.   Protect faculty from physical or other forms  of assault and harassment by members of the campus community or members of the public, including taking immediate response to any threats to their person while on campus.

 8.   Consider carefully requests made for the release of faculty personnel files so that information that may subject a faculty member and/ or their family members to harassment and physical danger are not released.

 9.   We reaffirm, and the University must continuously reaffirm the core principles of freedom, access to knowledge, and the role of the university in a democratic society.


 Coalition of Faculty for Academic Freedom

Click here to view the full statement.

Statement of RFUF Board of Directors 

November 10, 2021 

TO: President Kent Fuchs 

The Retired Faculty of the University of Florida (RFUF) Board of Directors is concerned with  reports of interference by state politicians and donors in the free speech of faculty as well as in  university policy and hiring decisions. This has already resulted in substantial harm to the  governance and functioning of the University, the good name of UF in the state and nation, and  the wellbeing of students, staff, and the general public. 

UF has recently been ranked in the Top 5 of US public universities, accomplishing this after  years of dedication to quality teaching, research, and service. Perception that outside actors are manipulating UF’s participation in ongoing discussions on health, elections, and civil rights and  in faculty hires could certainly yield negative results for all.  

While we appreciate that President Fuchs has rescinded the decision to ban professors from  testifying in court on voter rights restrictions in Florida, and while we agree with the decision to  activate an investigation into the issues, as retired faculty of the University, we question the  decision-making process that led to this crisis about academic freedom and political interference. As a state institution, teaching, research, and service must be on behalf of all Floridians, whether  or not it serves the specific interests and objectives of the state government or of powerful  individuals and interest groups within the state.  

Faculty members must have the academic freedom to conduct research, teach, and communicate  to the public facts and ideas stemming from their academic explorations and there should be no  political interference in university hiring decisions. We are concerned that the composition of the  newly created task force to review UF’s practice regarding requests for approval of outside  activities is unrepresentative of broader faculty and university concerns, and we recommend that  as a first step, the task force be expanded to include designees of the UF Senate president and the  UFF president. 

Carmen Diana Deere (IFAS), RFUF President, 2021-2022 

R. Hunt Davis Jr. (CLAS) 

John Foltz (IFAS) 

Alison Gerencser (Law) 

Abraham Goldman (CLAS) 

George J. Hochmuth (IFAS) 

Pushpa S. Kalra (Medicine) 

Saeed R. Khan (Medicine) 

James L. Kurtz (Engineering) 

Richard Phillips (Libraries) 

Robin Poynor (Arts) 

Harry B. Shaw (CLAS) 

Ann P. Smith (Nursing)

Click here to view the full PDF document.


Academic freedom in the United States is under attack. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has made attacking the independence of the University system a cornerstone of his political agenda, seeking to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” and requiring all state colleges and universities to conduct yearly surveys measuring students “viewpoint diversity.” Under the alleged guise of academic freedom, DeSantis has instead made it clear that only those policies which serve the party in power should be allowed under his administration. 

Rather than standing up as an independent institution committed to freedom of speech, the University of Florida has served as an active partner in undermining the University’s autonomy from political pressure. Nowhere is this more clear than in a recent decision by the University to bar three of our colleagues–Drs. Sharon Austin, Dan Smith, and Michael McDonald–from testifying in a voting rights case against the state of Florida. According to the decision, the faculty were barred from pursuing “… activities adverse to the university’s interests as a State of Florida institution.” It is unclear how increasing individuals’ access to the vote is “adverse to the university’s interests.” What is clear is that the University has consistently privileged pleasing the ruling party in Tallahassee over standing up for the rights of its own employees. 

On Friday, under immense pressure from faculty, alumni, the media, current students and more, President Fuchs reversed the school’s decision, allowing the three professors to testify. We welcome this decision–however, it should not take immense public outcry for the University to do the right thing. We can and must do better. As students of Drs. Austin, Smith, McDonald, and many other experts in the Department of Political Science, we spend much of our time researching and understanding the importance of democracy, as well as how it is threatened. To ensure that the university remains independent of the political whims of power in Tallahassee, we reiterate the demands articulated by the United Faculty of Florida (UFF), and call on the University to: 

1. Issue a formal apology to Drs. Austin, Smith, McDonald, and any other employees affected by their decision to infringe on the free speech rights of their faculty and staff. 2. Reconfirm that the university will not under any circumstances seek to silence employees 

who seek to exercise their free speech rights and use their own expertise for the public good, including as expert witnesses. 

3. Affirm that they do not serve the government in power but the state of Florida, and that they will reject any attempt by any party to influence what speech and action is and is not permitted at the University of Florida. 

4. Confirm that they do not support and will actively fight ongoing attempts to undermine the right of Floridians to vote, especially young Floridians and Floridians of color.

We call, in short, for the leaders of the University of Florida to exercise leadership in the face of a coordinated attack on our democracy. Anything short of that is unacceptable. 


The Undersigned Political Science Graduate Students 

Brandi Martinez Roshaun Colvin Christine Berry Treethep Srisa-nga Jeeye Song Juliana Mucci Dilruba Tas Spencer Corp Anniston McMahan Daniel H. Zengotita James Fahey Jacob Caldwell Morgan Hanson Long Xiao Wallelign Hassen Jonathan J. Chiarella Xiao Sun LaRaven Temoney