Free Speech

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on the University of Florida Matter

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Here's their statement from yesterday; I expect it's short precisely because it was posted on the weekend, when some people have days off:

FIRE is deeply concerned by a report in The New York Times that the University of Florida has barred three professors from participating as witnesses in a voting rights lawsuit against the state of Florida.

FIRE has said it before, and we'll say it again: The profound civic importance of fair trials requires the ability of fact and expert witnesses to come forward to testify truthfully without fear that their government employer might retaliate against them. Public university faculty are no exception. We call on UF to reverse course immediately.

UF should be aware that Plymouth State University's ill-considered decision to punish faculty who had testified in a trial ultimately cost the state of New Hampshire's taxpayers $350,000. FIRE warned Plymouth State then, and we're warning UF now: If you pick a fight with the First Amendment, you will lose.

Here's FIRE's summary of the Plymouth State incident:

On July 31, 2018, Plymouth State University (PSU) punished two professors for their participation in a criminal proceeding. PSU adjunct professor Nancy Strapko testified as an expert witness for Kristie Torbick, a high school guidance counselor convicted of sexual assault, and professor emeritus Michael Fischler sent a letter to the court during Torbick's sentencing. After their participation was publicly criticized in the months leading up to Torbick's sentencing in early July, PSU refused to rehire Strapko and suspended Fischler from teaching until he completes Title IX training. On September 7, FIRE sent a letter to PSU reminding the university that professors' expression on matters of public concern is protected by the First Amendment, and that citizens should not be disciplined for speaking on behalf of those facing the criminal justice system. On February 15, 2019, PSU settled with Strapko, agreeing to pay her $350,000 to avoid a lawsuit over her firing and agreeing to release a public statement acknowledging the importance of witnesses participating in the criminal justice process.

For my longer analysis, see this post.