'The Big Above': UF researchers felt 'silencing and pressure' from Florida state officials to destroy COVID data
Faculty members at the University of Florida reportedly felt pressured to destroy COVID-19 data and race-related information out of fear of upsetting state officials, a new report indicates.
Speaking to The Tampa Bay Times, Danaya Wright, a constitutional law professor who served on the six-person committee that convened last month "to investigate academic freedom issues," noted faculty members were fearful of ruffling the feathers of state officials. According to the report, faculty members were told: "not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to COVID-19 in media interactions."
The investigation began after three political science professors – identified as Daniel A. Smith, Michael McDonald, and Sharon Wright Austin — were barred from testifying as part of a lawsuit against the state.
“We knew it was much more widespread,” Wright said in an interview Monday. “We knew there was more silencing and pressure coming from above. The Big Above.”
Wright explained how the impending destruction of data created more cause for concern. Faculty members also faced challenges in accessing COVID data in order to properly analyze it and "contribute scientific findings" during the brunt of the pandemic.
“COVID research, it is life and death to not be able to do your job,” Wright said. “To have your research that you’ve trained for so many years to be able to do, to have that research tabled, put on the shelf and ignored and not get it out there to the academic community to get it out there and see if it’s going to do any good.”