On Friday, The New York Times reported that three University of Florida professors are telling a federal court that the university has barred them from assisting plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging a restrictive voting law championed and signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"University officials told the three that because the school was a state institution, participating in a lawsuit against the state 'is adverse to U.F.'s interests' and could not be permitted. In their filing, the professors sought to question Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on whether he was involved in the decision," reported Michael Wines. "Mr. DeSantis has resisted questioning, arguing that all of his communications about the law are protected from disclosure because discussions about legislation are privileged."
According to the report, the professors wanted to provide evidence, as expert witnesses, that the law discriminates against minority groups.
"Lawyers for the plaintiffs sought to hire three University of Florida political scientists as expert witnesses: Dr. Smith, the chair of the university's political science department; Michael McDonald, a nationally recognized elections scholar; and Sharon Wright Austin, who studies African American political behavior," said the report. "In rejecting Dr. Smith's request, the dean of the university's college of arts and sciences, David E. Richardson, wrote that 'outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.' A university vice president overseeing conflicts of interest issued the other two rejections."
According to the report, this is a radical departure from typical University of Florida practice, which "has routinely allowed academic experts to offer expert testimony in lawsuits, even when they oppose the interests of the political party in power."
The Florida law in question, one of many around the country passed by Republicans to restrict voting rights in the wake of record 2020 turnout, restricts ballot drop boxes, adds new requirements to vote by mail, and makes it illegal to give food and water to voters waiting in line.