Open Letter from UF’s Political Science Graduate Student Council

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Academic freedom in the United States is under attack. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has made attacking the independence of the University system a cornerstone of his political agenda, seeking to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” and requiring all state colleges and universities to conduct yearly surveys measuring students “viewpoint diversity.” Under the alleged guise of academic freedom, DeSantis has instead made it clear that only those policies which serve the party in power should be allowed under his administration. 

Rather than standing up as an independent institution committed to freedom of speech, the University of Florida has served as an active partner in undermining the University’s autonomy from political pressure. Nowhere is this more clear than in a recent decision by the University to bar three of our colleagues–Drs. Sharon Austin, Dan Smith, and Michael McDonald–from testifying in a voting rights case against the state of Florida. According to the decision, the faculty were barred from pursuing “… activities adverse to the university’s interests as a State of Florida institution.” It is unclear how increasing individuals’ access to the vote is “adverse to the university’s interests.” What is clear is that the University has consistently privileged pleasing the ruling party in Tallahassee over standing up for the rights of its own employees. 

On Friday, under immense pressure from faculty, alumni, the media, current students and more, President Fuchs reversed the school’s decision, allowing the three professors to testify. We welcome this decision–however, it should not take immense public outcry for the University to do the right thing. We can and must do better. As students of Drs. Austin, Smith, McDonald, and many other experts in the Department of Political Science, we spend much of our time researching and understanding the importance of democracy, as well as how it is threatened. To ensure that the university remains independent of the political whims of power in Tallahassee, we reiterate the demands articulated by the United Faculty of Florida (UFF), and call on the University to: 

1. Issue a formal apology to Drs. Austin, Smith, McDonald, and any other employees affected by their decision to infringe on the free speech rights of their faculty and staff. 2. Reconfirm that the university will not under any circumstances seek to silence employees 

who seek to exercise their free speech rights and use their own expertise for the public good, including as expert witnesses. 

3. Affirm that they do not serve the government in power but the state of Florida, and that they will reject any attempt by any party to influence what speech and action is and is not permitted at the University of Florida. 

4. Confirm that they do not support and will actively fight ongoing attempts to undermine the right of Floridians to vote, especially young Floridians and Floridians of color.

We call, in short, for the leaders of the University of Florida to exercise leadership in the face of a coordinated attack on our democracy. Anything short of that is unacceptable. 


The Undersigned Political Science Graduate Students 

Brandi Martinez Roshaun Colvin Christine Berry Treethep Srisa-nga Jeeye Song Juliana Mucci Dilruba Tas Spencer Corp Anniston McMahan Daniel H. Zengotita James Fahey Jacob Caldwell Morgan Hanson Long Xiao Wallelign Hassen Jonathan J. Chiarella Xiao Sun LaRaven Temoney