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UF approves recommended changes to its conflict of interest policy

UF assigned a task force to make the recommendations after its decision to prohibit professors from testifying on a Florida law led to concerns of free speech.
Credit: Earl Robbins - stock.adobe.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida says it has approved a task force's recommended changes to the university's conflict of interest policy, after previously prohibiting three professors from testifying on Florida's implementation of a voting restrictions law.

The task force was announced earlier this month by UF President Kent Fuchs. He said the purpose of the task force was to make recommendations on "how UF should respond when employees request approval to serve as expert witnesses in litigation in which their employer, the state of Florida, is a party."

Back in October, UF filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida stating that Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin have been "disapproved" by the university to provide legal consulting in the lawsuit. The filing claimed the university was a "state actor," and litigation against the state was "adverse to UF's interests." 

The act against the trio, who was being sought to testify for a group of voting rights organizations that filed a lawsuit against the implementation of SB 90, also sparked concerns regarding free speech.

The university ultimately reversed its stance the following week. 

The task force recommended that UF adopt a policy that supports the free speech rights of faculty and staff to comment "on matters of public concern," and is more transparent in the process of how the university accepts and denies requests to serve as expert witnesses – that includes allowing for an appeal process.

"I am grateful to the task force members for their diligence and transparency in addressing this very important matter," Fuchs said in a statement.

You can see the full list of recommendations here.