The GOP stands for free speech on college campuses. Cancel culture is the greatest danger facing America today, and the GOP will always fight for the First Amendment. Except when they don't like what people are saying, in which case it is SHUT UP, professor, before we slap duct tape across your mouth.

In mid-October, administrators at the University of Florida informed professors Daniel A. Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Wright Austin that they would be barred from testifying in a lawsuit alleging that the state's recently enacted voting legislation deliberately disenfranchises minority voters.

"UF will deny its employees' requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests. As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF's interests," wrote Assistant Vice President Gary Wimsett. Apparently the university has an interest in making it harder to vote absentee, as large numbers of minorities did in 2020 during an election GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis himself held up as a model for every other state. It's hard to see how the school has a vested interest in ensuring no one gives out water bottles to people standing in line for hours waiting to vote, but perhaps the school will elucidate the point if and when the professors carry through on their threat to sue to vindicate their rights.


Not to put too fine a point on it, but this whole thing is FUCKBONKERS. The university is banning its employees from expressing their expert opinions because those opinions criticize Gov. DeSantis and the state of Florida. When the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," this is exactly what it's referring to. This ban is preposterously illegal, just like the stupid social media law DeSantis signed live on Fox News that purported to ban tech platforms from doing cancel cultures to conservatives.

The university's attempt to block the testimony was first reported by the New York Times after the plaintiffs entered the denial emails into the record attached to a discovery motion filed Friday. Apparently, DeSantis is refusing to answer interrogatories about whether he personally intervened with the school to ban the professors from testifying as expert witnesses.

"Plaintiffs are legitimately concerned that prosecution of this litigation may be impeded by the efforts of 'the executive branch of the State of Florida' to prevent testimony from or intimidate Plaintiffs' experts on key issues—including racially discriminatory intent and racially disparate impact—and are clearly entitled to explore these issues in discovery," they argue. "The Governor's Office's assertion that the University of Florida's decisions relating to the participation of its employees in this litigation implicates the 'legislative privilege' is nonsensical."

Yes, Ron, please explain to us how suppressing the free speech rights of state employees is a "legislative" act.

As for the university, it's in full spin mode trying to 'splain how actually it is not censoring unpopular opinions in violation of the First Amendment.

"The University of Florida has a long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty's academic freedom, and we will continue to do so. It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin," it said in an unsigned statement. "Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university's interests as a state of Florida institution."

Meanwhile, the school has rolled out yet another explanation, telling the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, "However, to be clear, if the professors wish to do so pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they would be free to do so." In this latest version of events, the issue isn't with the professor's speech itself, perish the very thought. The problem is that they're getting paid for it, which is not allowed.

As Professor Michael McDonald, a renowned expert on elections, noted on Twitter, the university was very clear that the problem was the content of the speech, not the compensation they receive for making it. And Smith has testified in multiple voting rights cases before, including last year's fucktussle over the state's de facto override of the referendum restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.

The whole thing is patently corrupt and illegal, which is shocking considering how Florida stuff is usually so on the up and up, especially in these DeSantis years.

Let's give the last word to Professor Austin, who made this statement to the United Faculty of Florida, which came out in support of the three professors:

For me, this is about my role as an African American female mentor. A Southern Black woman who is not fighting for voting rights is a sell-out to her community. I refuse to teach my students that it is important to fight for voting and civil rights and then not fight for those rights myself.

My father was born in 1938 and my mother in 1940 in Robinsonville, Mississippi. They couldn't even think about voting for many years and lived in poverty as sharecroppers until they moved to the city of Memphis as young adults. They would be outraged if they knew that their daughter has a Ph.D., is a tenured professor, is among only 2% of black female full professors in the nation, but is now refusing to fight to protect voting rights. If Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer could lose their jobs, then I could lose mine too, but not without a fight.

God bless.

And OPEN THREAD.

[Miami Herald / WaPo / NYT / Florida Rising Together v. Lee, docket via Court Listener]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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