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Candidates for governor discuss academic freedom for professors at UFF debate

Candidates for governor discuss academic freedom for professors at UFF debate
Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 11:34 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Gubernatorial candidates squared off over academic freedom of University of Florida professors Tuesday night in what was the first debate of the election. The United Faculty of Florida(UFF) invited all candidates to a virtual town hall but Gov. Ron DeSantis did not attend.

A main topic among US Rep. Charlie Crist, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried and FL Sen. Annette Taddeo, who was there, was freedom of speech after an outcry from UF professors suggesting their academic freedom was being taken away.

“What concrete steps will you take to defend these foundational rights,” VP of UFF at UF Dr. Meera Sitharam asked.

A Faculty Senate committee released a 274 page document claiming there was pressure to destroy COVID-19 data and data was also delayed by a state government entity.

Related story: Gubernatorial candidates react to UF Faculty Senate report which claims COVID-19 data was destroyed

The governor’s office denied this.

Sen. Taddeo said these acts resemble communist countries.

“Since the moment I’ve been in the senate, I’ve been a fighter,” Taddeo said. “What republicans are trying to do here in Florida is what happens in places with no freedom. Big government overseeing what we learn and what we speak about. Freedom of education is essential so we don’t become like Venezuela, Cuba or China and as Governor you can’t count on me to stop that from happening.”

UF has opened an investigation into COVID research integrity.

The report also highlighted grievances from professors including one being barred from using words critical and race in his curriculum.

All of this comes after three professors were barred from giving an expert witness testimony against the state.

Fried said if governor, she would get rid of the current board of trustees.

“While I won’t be able to immediately fire them all, but certainly when their reappointments come into play we will not be reappointing those members of the board of trustees that are all campaign donors to the republican party,” Fried said “…The fear they’ve placed in our professors and fear they’ve put into our students is disrespectful.”

Rep. Crist said censorship is unacceptable.

“We deserve to have a governor who cares about academic freedom,” Crist said. “We deserve to have a governor who understands what freedom of speech is all about and that we don’t need censorship in our high education system in the state of Florida.”

TV20 reached out to the governor’s political team on why he did not join the debate, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The three candidates agreed on most topics like standing with teacher unions and protecting tenure for professors.

They also agreed to getting rid of a new law that requires yearly surveys on professors’ ideological beliefs.

There is a Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday.

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