University of Florida bans professors from testifying against state – scholar explains academic freedom issues

(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) _The University of Florida has banned three of its faculty from serving as paid experts in a Florida voting rights case, sparking outrage in academia and the media. The university said allowing its professors to testify against the state was against its interests. Critics say the move puts politics ahead of academic freedom. Here, George Justice, English professor and former college dean, provides insight into the dynamics at play in the controversy.

Why do professors need permission to be paid experts?

Many universities, including the University of Florida, have policies that require faculty to seek approval for “outside activities.” This is true for both paid and unpaid activities.

Those who work at research universities like the University of Florida have professional responsibilities outside of teaching. Full and tenured professors spend less than half of their time in direct instruction; they often teach two courses per semester. More than half of their time is therefore devoted to research and service to the profession.

Since professors have a lot of leeway in their work, they have a lot of opportunities to moonlight – whether in jobs related to their expertise or not. In doing so, they could in theory neglect their official duties. Unapproved activities would be considered a conflict with their commitment to the job.

Universities therefore develop policies for professors in order to avoid both conflicts of engagement and conflicts of interest. At the University of Florida, a conflict of interest arises “when the interests or financial, professional, business or personal activities of a University employee outside the University affect or appear to affect their professional judgment or obligations towards the University ”.

Can a public university order a faculty not to speak out in public or in court?

Academic freedom gives faculty members of colleges and universities the right to conduct research and teach students in a manner consistent with their professional knowledge. But the principles of academic freedom do not protect everything a full professor might say. This is true whether inside or outside the university.

The historic 1940 statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure – made by the American Association of University Teachers and still in use today – states that: “Teachers have the right to full freedom in research and in the publication of results, subject to the fulfillment of their other academic duties. However, the statement said that searches for a “pecuniary return” – that is, in exchange for money – “should be based on an agreement with the authorities of the institution”. In other words, universities cannot tell professors how to do their research while they are performing their other functions, such as teaching. But when it comes to getting paid for their research, they need to get permission from the university where they work.

The University of Florida now claims that this is a matter of “monetary return” for faculty research. University spokesman Hessy Fernandez said the university is simply preventing the three experts from taking paid work outside of their academic duties.

“If professors wish to do it pro bono on their own time, without using academic resources, they would be free to do so,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez’s statement contradicts the university’s previous justifications for preventing the faculty from testifying as experts. The university initially asserted that there was a conflict of interest rather than a commitment: “As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is against the interests of UF.

Now, they appear to be claiming a conflict of employment, defined in their standard policies as “when a University employee engages in some outside activity, paid or unpaid, which could interfere with their professional obligations to the University” . The university did not explain how testifying as an expert would violate professors’ professional obligations.

Have other academics ever faced this kind of academic restriction in their speech?

Not that I know. Experts quoted in news articles call Florida’s refusal of faculty members’ request to testify on the basis of their scientific expertise “unprecedented.” They say this is all the more true as it is a “prior restriction of a teacher’s ability to speak”.

“Preventive detention” refers to censorship even before someone has spoken or published what they say. This implies the requirement of a formal license to speak. By focusing its final comments on the prospect of faculty members being paid for their work as expert witnesses, I think the university is trying to avoid accusations of exercising prior restrictions.

Does tenure protect professors who challenge their university?

Tenure does not protect faculty members who defy basic employment rules that require them to perform their specific duties.

The tenure protects the right of faculty members to express themselves on matters of their expertise. This includes speaking as expert witnesses. Many universities have a specific language for this. For example, Oregon State University has a policy that state faculty can serve as expert witnesses in administrative or legal proceedings in which the Oregon Council of Higher Education and State University of Oregon are not parties, provided they do so “in a consistent manner.” with OSU’s policy on outside professional activities, and in accordance with any college, unit or department restrictions on outside consulting or conflict of interest policies. “

It would be a high bar for the University of Florida to jump over it to claim that these faculty members are violating their commitment to their research and their students by offering their expert testimony for this particular case, which calls into question a recent Florida voting rights law, a subject all three of us are experts on.

Identifying the interest of the university with the interests of the current governor – called “executive power” in the university’s communications with academics – goes against the history and practice of public higher education . It also contradicts more specific protections of academic freedom.

Is this action a threat to academic freedom?

It is a great threat. This is one of the two recent challenges to tenure and academic freedom in the southern states. The other is a change in tenure rules at Georgia state universities. The changes there allow administrators to fire full professors – who have an academic guarantee of lifetime employment – without a faculty committee hearing. Some ask: if the administrators can decide themselves to revoke the tenure, does the tenure really exist? In the cases of Florida and Georgia, university administrations take responsibility for managing what professors do and say outside of established principles of faculty autonomy.

The University of Florida financially supports The Conversation.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: – 170986.

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