University Denies That Politicians Influenced Them in Preventing Professors Testifying Against DeSantis Electoral Reform

Toby Hazlewood

Members of its board have donated $600k to DeSantis' campaign
DeSantis speaking at University of FloridaThe Florida Channel

Earlier this month, the University of Florida banned three of its professors from appearing as paid expert witnesses in a lawsuit challenging new voting-rights laws that had been introduced by Governor DeSantis in early 2021.

Following investigations by a task force, the University backed down - and said the professors will be allowed to appear as paid witnesses, challenging the legality of the new laws. On November 24 the task force issued its report, within it claiming that there had been no external political influence in its decision to prevent its professors from testifying as expert witnesses:

“The decisions that have led to the media reports were all made internally. The university’s established governing board, the Board of Trustees, was not involved in the decision-making process in any way, and entities and/or individuals outside the university’s established governing system had no effect on the recently reported institutional action.”

Meanwhile, the three professors - Daniel A. Smith, Sharon Austin and Michael McDonald will continue suing the university in federal court for violating the First Amendment.

Are there political influences, regardless?

While the University denies outright political influence, the move does seem to hint at partisan political influences being a factor. It was recently reported that 4 of the 13 board members responsible for governing the University of Florida are major donors to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign, having donated around $661,800 the last few years.

SB 90 - the controversial law in question - was signed by Governor DeSantis in May 2021. It restricts the use of drop boxes for postal ballots, adds new ID rules, and requires voters to reapply for mail-in ballots more regularly. Critics of Governor DeSantis see it as a means of him protecting his chances as a potential White House candidate for 2024, given that Florida is a crucial presidential swing state.

Whether the law remains in place will emerge over time. What seems crucial in the case of the University of Florida is that institutions may need to be careful about allowing policy decisions to be influenced by political biases.

The University has since announced that it will be updating its Conflict of Interests Policy in light of the episode.
DeSantis and TrumpShutterstock

DeSantis vs Trump

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether DeSantis will eventually stand for President.

Donald Trump has occasionally expressed enthusiasm for DeSantis, but as might be expected, doesn't want him as a competitor and would rather he declared out of the presidential running for 2024. Roger Stone, one of Trump's biggest fans had previously threatened to run against DeSantis for Governor to weaken his chances of re-election, if he didn't declare out of the running for president too.

Regardless of the threats and legal challenges, it would appear that DeSantis continues to focus on his own business!

Do you think that it's possible for businesses, universities and other institutions to be completely free from political influence? Would you prefer DeSantis or Trump as a Republican presidential candidate if you had to choose? Let me know in in the comments section below.

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