Be like Lombardi, Dr. Fuchs

Wow! Talk about igniting a firestorm.

For a while there, Tigert Hall’s ham-handed attempts to censor professors caught more flack than Dan Mullen’s flailing football fortunes. 

Realizing he’d gotten a tiger by the tail (sly LSU reference) UF President Ken Fuchs did an about-face, told the suppressed professors to go ahead and testify, and announced he’d appoint a task force to review UF’s conflict of interest policies. 

Hopefully, Fuchs will do some soul searching of his own while awaiting the work of the task force. 

In that regard I suggest he ask himself three questions:

1. WWJHMD?

J. Hillis Miller was UF’s first post-World War II president. He oversaw a major campus expansion, and ended up getting UF’s health center named after him. 

But Miller was no champion of his faculty’s right to get involved in the larger world beyond campus. The so-called Miller Memo prohibited faculty from running for office. It was insulting and blatantly unconstitutional, but Miller had been dead for more than a decade before economics professor Jim Richardson finally defied his edict and ran for city commission. 

Don’t be a J. Hillis Miller, Dr. Fuchs.

2. WWJWRD?

J. Wayne Reitz has been dead for almost 30 years, but students are still agitating to get his name taken off the Student Union. And rightly so.

When the Johns Committee came to town in 1958, to root out homosexuality on campus, Reitz played the stooge while careers were ruined and students expelled. 

Reitz called homosexuality “a complete aberration,” and he thanked the Johns Committee for its work. 

Don’t be a J. Wayne Reitz, Dr. Fuchs.

3. WWJLD?

While he’s mulling all this over, Fuchs ought to invite Dean Emeritus Jon Mills in for a cup of tea and a little chat about academic freedom. 

Mills is former Speaker of the Florida House (a position he could not have aspired to while Miller was in charge). 

He is also co-director of UF’s Center For Governmental Responsibility, which was founded after Dick Nixon impounded funds earmarked for social and civil rights programs. The center’s work helped support successful litigation challenging the impoundments. 

In the decades since, the Center has been elbow deep in matters of environmental law, poverty, health and education policies, gender and race bias and much more.

Needless to say, that work has not always been greeted with enthusiasm in Tallahassee. (“Governmental responsibility? We don’t need no stinkin’ governmental responsibility!”)

In 1998 the Legislature tried to strip its funding on the trumped up excuse that the Center was somehow encouraging people to sue the government. The horror!

It took then-President John Lombardi about five minutes to decide: No, we’re not going to do that.

“Lombardi basically said that the Center for Governmental Responsibility would continue to be funded separately under a different line,” Mills recalled. 

In other words, Lombardi ignored the Legislature. And, Mills recalls, “there was no further reaction” from Tallahassee to his defiance.

Lombardi called Tallahassee’s bluff. 

“It’s fair to say this was an attempt by somebody to send UF a message,” Mills reflected. Nonetheless, UF defended “the ability of academics to talk about public policy.”

Let the record show that when it counted, Lombardi stood firmly in defense of academic freedom at the University of Florida.

Which leaves one last question.

WWKFD?

Be a John Lombardi, President Fuchs. Else what is The Academy for?

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