The group that accredits the University of Florida said Thursday that the school has stood by its principles, acted with integrity and taken adequate steps over the past five months to protect academic freedom.
The Association of Southern Colleges and Schools, which accredits the universities of the Southeast, launched an investigation in November after reading news articles about UF professors who were initially barred from testifying in cases against the state because university officials told them it was not not in the best interests of the school.
The association said it reached its conclusions after visiting the Gainesville campus in April and speaking with faculty, staff and administrators.
Its report states that UF “provided evidence of new procedures approved by the Faculty Senate that corrected issues that arose last year.”
The school took several actions after professors banned from participating in the cases filed a federal lawsuit against the university and an internal investigation was launched. The directors announced changes to their conflict of interest policy, added an appeals process and created a UF procedures website.
“While there are still unresolved concerns among individuals in the establishment about the complex aspects of how conflict of interest, conflict of commitment and consideration of point of view can erode the freedom academically, the institution has made a good faith effort to put safeguards and corrections in place,” the Southern Association report said.
He added, however, that association members were concerned about recent legislation in Florida “concerning censorship in the classroom,” and that UF middle managers shared those concerns. The notation was an apparent reference to the Legislature’s passage of the ‘Stop Woke Act,’ which limits how race-related issues are taught in public universities, colleges and workplace training . Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in April.
The Southern Association’s involvement in the UF controversy angered some state lawmakers, leading to another new law—this one requiring state universities and colleges to change accreditors each cycle.
The association’s investigation was seen as a serious matter that could have resulted in consequences—including the loss of federal financial aid and research funds—if the university failed to resolve the issues.
The report led to a lengthy outpouring on Thursday from UF board chairman Mori Hosseini, who complained about media coverage of the controversy that highlighted the university’s ties to the political leaders in the state, some of whom focused on him.
“Where can I recover my reputation?” Hosseini at the directors’ meeting on Thursday.
He then referred to UF President Kent Fuchs. “Where can I find his reputation? Where do I get the reputation of this university?
Follow What’s Happening at Tampa Bay Schools
Subscribe to our free gradebook newsletter
We’ll break down the local and national education developments you need to know every Thursday.
You are all registered!
Want more of our free weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s start.
Explore all your options
Hosseini called the accrediting body’s investigation ‘unfair’ and said the university had suffered ‘collateral damage’ for what he suggested was a program to entice newspaper readers to click on items.
“We have been investigated,” he said. “For how many days they came and investigated us. It’s unfair… It’s no longer sensational for them to write a story about us. We have in each case, each allegation, it came out that we had nothing to do with it, we had no part in it or we did nothing wrong.
Hosseini added: “No one has ever exerted political pressure on us. Already. Never. Nobody. Me or someone else.
He also defended UF’s hiring of Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, which a Faculty Senate report found violated the university’s hiring procedures.
“While some consider (Ladapo’s) views on topics such as vaccines and face masks to be unconventional, he is well within his rights to express those views,” Hosseini said. “Some might even say that by doing this he is exercising his academic freedom.”
He cited Ladapo’s academic credentials and said the university followed proper procedures to hire him.
Fuchs, who is expected to retire soon, said he was pleased with the Southern Association’s report, which noted “positive results” from last year’s “ordeal”, including how quickly he and the Senate of the Faculty reacted. The report says the new policies being implemented address “almost all” of the shortcomings of previous policies.
“It’s good to have this behind us and to affirm that what we knew was true in November,” Fuchs said.