Jan 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge sides with University of Florida professors in academic freedom case

University of Florida.

University of Florida. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A federal judge on Friday in a decisive free speech ruling ordered that the University of Florida stop enforcing its conflict of interest policy against six professors who were barred from giving expert testimony in lawsuits against the state.

Driving the news: Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker for the Northern District of Florida accused the university of silencing the professors and granted them a preliminary injunction.

  • Walker likened the university's actions to Hong Kong University removing a sculpture commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
  • "In many ways, the Pillar’s demise was emblematic of the demise of academic freedom in Hong Kong," Walker said, linking it to the University of Florida's conflict of interest policy.
  • "Defendants must take no steps to enforce its conflict-of-interests policy with respect to faculty and staff requests to engage as expert witnesses or provide legal consulting in litigation involving the State of Florida until otherwise ordered," Walker ordered.

Catch up quick: The order comes after three professors brought a lawsuit against the University of Florida for being prohibited from serving as expert witnesses or filing amicus briefs in cases against the state.

  • The professors were told that their actions could be considered against the university's best interest.
  • Three other professors — a pediatrics professor and two law professors — later joined the lawsuit.

What he's saying:  "UF has bowed to perceived pressure from Florida’s political leaders and has sanctioned the unconstitutional suppression of ideas out of favor with Florida’s ruling party."

What to watch: Walker set a bench trial for Nov. 7.

Go deeper: UF experts barred from sharing expertise

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