From the Miami Herald:
In a decision that could have far-reaching free speech implications for faculty at universities and colleges across Florida, the University of Florida has refused to allow three political science professors to continue to serve as expert witnesses in a case that challenges a new state law that restricts voting access.
Political Science Professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin, in cases before the state, were told by emails earlier this month that their requests to serve as experts would now be rejected. They were seeking permission to serve as experts in the case challenging Senate Bill 90, passed by Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature in the wake of the 2020 election.
“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,’’ wrote David Richardson, dean of UF’s college of arts and sciences in response to Smith’s request.
Smith is the chair of UF’s political science department; McDonald is a national expert on elections and Austin studies African American political behavior.
Gary Wimsett, UF’s assistant vice president for conflicts of interest, provided a similar response to McDonald and Austin.
Gov. DeSantis and his wormtongues has been running around the state — and raising money for his campaigns — blathering about “freedom”: parents are free to intimidate school boards into violating common-sense and life-saving medical guidance while the state leads the nation in the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19. He’s happily and boldly exercised his freedom to tell businesses and municipalities that they can’t restrict the freedom of anti-vaxxers to spread their lies and their germs. He carries on about “freedom of choice” to not get vaccinated, but when it comes to a woman’s body, they have no choice but to go along with the dictates of the state. He is all for parental rights, but what about the rights of the parents who don’t want themselves or their children exposed to a fatal disease?
This is cowardice, and Gov. DeSantis is full of it. He can’t lead because he’s afraid of the wrath of that AK in West Palm who will unleash the minions of his fevered nightmare. Perish the thought that lives may be saved if he upsets one old man. But hatred, fear and loathing are bred by restricting the freedoms they claim to cherish.
Most discussions of Florida’s decision to forbid professors at state universities from serving as expert witnesses in cases challenging its voter suppression laws have focused on it as a question of free speech versus the state. And it is certainly that. In every legal sense it is that. It’s an almost comical abuse of power. But I want to highlight a distinction which may seem semantic but I think is more than that.
The danger is less the state than a certain type of political party, the Trumpite GOP.
In the order to the professors the school officials wrote, “As UF (University of Florida) is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.” Needless to say this tosses out whole canons of custom and perhaps law of freedom of speech and academic freedom in the US. But again, this is really a political party and Ron DeSantis as its in-state leader.
One of the features of American democracy is a fairly sharp line between political activity, the electoral activity of parties and the functions of the state. A state governor has budgets and powers to run the state. But he or she can’t use them to run for reelection. Ignoring these distinctions was one of the most defining features of Trump’s presidency. I am the state, as it were.
We can see now that that approach increasingly suffuses the whole GOP. It would certainly be a conflict of interest for people in the state’s solicitor general’s office to be serving as expert witnesses against the state law. It’s a state law and the solicitor general is the lawyer whose job it is to defend the state’s laws before the courts. But public university’s have no comparable role. Again, it’s personalization and party-ification of the powers of the state.