Three more professors have joined a lawsuit against the University of Florida calling for an end to the conflict of interest policy that limited their ability to testify in lawsuits against the state.
Added as plaintiffs on Monday were Jeffrey Goldhagen, a pediatrics professor and the chief of the Division of Community and Societal Pediatrics, and law professors Kenneth Nunn and Teresa Reid. They join political science professors Sharon Austin, Michael McDonald and Daniel Smith, who filed the lawsuit last week after the university barred them from testifying against the state in a case challenging Florida’s new voting laws.
The lawsuit alleges that the faculty members’ First Amendment rights were violated and that UF’s decisions around its conflict of interest policy reveal political motives and infringe on academic freedom.
According to the revised lawsuit, Nunn and Reid joined law professors around the country in signing a brief challenging Florida’s position that formerly incarcerated people had to pay all the financial obligations included in their sentence before they could vote. Both professors had taught courses about “the rights of criminal defendants and those convicted of felonies” and had previously participated in cases without issue, the lawsuit states.
It states that UF College of Law dean Laura Rosenbury initially told faculty that the university’s new policy on conflicts of interest and outside activities allowed them to sign on to such briefs because it was part of their role. She later said they needed permission first because the brief “will be filed in an action against the state.” When the professors sought permission, they were told they could participate as long as they did not use UF logos or imply a connection with the university.
The lawsuit states that, following the shifting policies, four UF professors signed on to the brief compared to the 10 that had initially expressed interest. Their affiliation with the university was not listed in the brief. The lawsuit also states that 24 professors from other Florida schools did list their affiliation.
Rosenbury is on a task force appointed by UF president Kent Fuchs to investigate the university’s conflict of interest policy.
The lawsuit also states Goldhagen was denied permission to testify as an expert witness in a case against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order about parents’ rights over schools in masking policies.
It says he believed “testifying on behalf of parents who wanted to protect their children’s health and safety in school was entirely consistent with the College of Medicine’s ‘goal of improving individual and community health’ and his oath as a medical doctor.”
David A. O’Neil and Paul Donnelly, the lawyers representing the six professors, said in a statement they hope the university does away with its conflict of interest policy.
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“When the University hired the Plaintiffs, they swore an oath to serve the people of Florida — not its Government,” the lawyers said. “As the State faces matters of great public importance, the University is unconstitutionally curtailing their free speech and academic freedom, and coercing them into violating this oath for blatantly political reasons. We are confident that the court of law will see through the University’s motives.”
The task force, which has met three times so far, has five more scheduled meetings before it submits its recommendations to Fuchs on Nov. 29.