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Federal subcommittee members send letter to UF launching investigation into free speech violations

The letter comes after reports of the university preventing professors from exercising their First Amendment rights.
Credit: Earl Robbins - stock.adobe.com

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — A letter sent to University of Florida president, Wesley Fuchs, by members of Congress requested information on "the university's conflict-of-interest policies," a press release from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform states says.

The letter comes after reports of the university preventing professors from exercising their First Amendment rights.

“We are concerned that UF is censoring its faculty based on viewpoint, which would set a dangerous precedent that flies in the face of its own commitment to freedom of expression,” the committee members wrote in the 10-page long letter. 

“We are also concerned that, possibly due to pressure from trustees, politicians, or others, UF has adopted and enforced a conflicts policy that undermines the academic and free speech values that are essential to American higher education. As one of the top five public research universities in the nation, UF must ensure that it is not creating the appearance of anticipatory obedience or that it is responding to political pressure in deciding which speech activities it will permit.”

RELATED: University of Florida reverses stance on professors testifying in voter restrictions lawsuit

After initially prohibiting three professors from testifying on Florida's implementation of a voting restrictions law, the University of Florida reversed its stance earlier this month. 

"If the professors wish to testify pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they are free to do so," Fuchs and Senior Academic Affairs VP Joe Glover wrote in a letter to students and staff.

UF filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Oct. 29, stating that Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald, Sharon Austin have been "disapproved" by the university to provide legal consulting in the lawsuit.  

"UF will deny its employees’ requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests. As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests," one of the filings read.

This new letter sent to the university says the subcommittee is "investigating the extent to which [the] university's actions have undermined the integrity of academic freedom and interfered with employee's constitutional right to speak freely as private citizens on matters of great public interest." 

For the investigation, the letter requests specific information from the university by Dec. 2, which includes:

  • Identification of all individuals who were consulted or otherwise involved in the creation, revision or development of UF's 2020 Conflicts of Commitment and Conflicts of Interest policy and any other policies related to requests to participate in outside activities. 
  • Each request by a UF professor to engage in outside activities that were denied under UF's Conflicts of Commitment and Conflicts of Interest policy or a related policy from January 1, 2015, until now.
  • All documents and communications related to concerns, complaints or objections raised or submitted by UF faculty or third parties in response to UF's July 2020 Conflicts of Commitment and Conflicts of Interest policy.

Additional information was requested from the university in the letter as well.

In response to the letter, the University said it was "working to respond within the guidelines we received."

Read the full letter below: