Bob Allston

February, 2003


  1. The University of Florida is based in the small town of Gainesville in the North Central part of the state. And the Gainesville based Florida Free Speech Forum is an organization consisting largely of UF academics, both as to officers and speakers; although there appears to be no official connection with the University.

  2. Clearly an organization that bills itself as a "free speech forum" could be expected to give voice to those who have no voice otherwise and to air subjects that are not aired otherwise. Indeed, the most critical link in airing suppressed speech is to provide the first opportunity for it to be heard by an intelligent motivated audience. For, more often than not, whistleblowers and others never find such an audience. Thus, for many reasons , they are forced to give up and their message is forever lost; at what may very often be substantial cost to both the university and society.

  3. Indeed, the above sentiment is most eloquently embodied in a statement by Walt Whitman prominently displayed at the top center of their page "I say there can be no safety for these states without free tongues and ears willing to hear the tongues." And if this forum should meet this noble challenge, it could of course play a major role in alleviating the problems addressed in this site; to wit, the suppression of free speech and dissent at UF.

  4. Sadly however, the forum falls far short of meeting Whitman's wise words of advice. For, far from meeting them, the evidence suggests they neither seek the tongues that so desperately need to be free nor do they want to hear them.

    STATED PURPOSES (as of February, 2003) OF THE FORUM

  5. And indeed, the stated purposes of the organization as set forth below would appear to further support these same noble ideals:

    1. To provide monthly forums, seminars, and workshops at which persons of every belief and political persuasion may be heard and questioned.

    2. To provide a platform for the rational examination of public issues and community concerns, particularly those of social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental importance to Florida.

    3. To advocate, protect, and defend freedom of speech through open dialogue. As an expression of the rational examination of ideas through free speech, the Florida Free Speech Forum, Inc., seeks the enhancement of life and freedom. This organization is open to public participation and endorses a belief in open and constructive dialogue.


  6. Programs are led by guest speakers on various subjects. Speakers are granted 30 minutes for presentation, followed by an additional 30 minute question and response session, on the subjects that are presented. Views expressed by the speakers reflect their views, not those of the Forum. The Forum's programs with speakers are at noon on the second Monday of each month at the Sheraton Hotel, Gainesville at 2900 SW 13th Street. A buffet lunch is served at 11:30 A.M. and you must make a reservation to attend by calling 335-3938 by the Thursday before the Forum. The presentations begin promptly at noon. Video tapes of these programs are available for loan from the Free Speech Forum Library. Radio broadcasts are monthly on WUFT-FM.


  7. Beginning with the most recent speaker at this writing, of February 10, 2003, the subject and speaker going back 2 years to the beginning of 2001, are reproduced below. For each entry, the first line furnishes the subject of the speech and the second line furnishes the speaker's name, sometimes with a little about the speaker -medical doctor, County Commissioner, UF professor, etc. In some instances, I have supplemented this with some information gleaned from Web sources on a third line:

    1. Forum Topic: Florida's Draconian Adoption Law: What Needs Changing?
      Speaker: Cynthia S. Swanson
      She is from aGainesville law firm

    2. Forum Topic: Smallpox Vaccination: Do you need it?
      Speaker: Parker A. Small, Jr., MD
      UF medical school

      Programming for Fall 2002

    3. Forum Topic: Poverty In Alachua County: What Can Be Done about it?
      Speaker: Rodney Long, Alachua County Commissioner

    4. Forum Topic: Crises That Have Faced Florida From Statehood to the Present
      Speaker: Michael Gannon, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at UF

    5. Forum Topic: Iraq and America: Diplomacy, War, or Other Options?
      Speaker: Dennis Jett, Dean of the International Center at UF

    6. Forum Topic: School Daze: Can Florida's Public Schools and Universities Ever Be Properly Funded?
      Speaker: David Denslow, Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at UF

      Programming for Spring 2002

    7. Forum Topic: Racism and the Future of the White Minority in the United States
      Speaker: Joe Feagin, Graduate Research Professor of Sociology at UF

    8. Free Speech Follow-Up Program "Living Together Amidst Diversity"
      Discussion Leader: Harriet Ludwig
      Gainesville based activist and newspaper reporter

    9. Forum Topic: Civil Rights and the War on Terrorism
      Speaker: Fletcher Baldwin, Professor of Law at UF

    10. Forum Topic: Keeping Government in the Sunlight
      Speaker: Jon Kaney, First Amendment Foundation

    11. Forum Topic: Islam and How It is Lived in the World Today
      Speaker: Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, UF Department of Religion

    12. Forum Topic: The 2002 Legislature: The Story So Far
      Speaker: Ben Wilcox, Executive Director of Common Cause of Florida

      Programming for Fall 2001

    13. Forum Topic: Visioning Gainesville in the Year 2020
      Speaker: Pegeen Hanrahan, Gainesville City Commissioner

    14. Forum Topic: End-Of-Life Issues
      Speaker: Shirley Bloodworth, Chair of N. FL Forum on End of Life Issues

    15. Forum Topic: Contested Memory: the Vietnam War and America
      Speaker: Robert McMahon, Professor of History at UF

    16. Forum Topic: Experiences, Triumphs and Failures in Tallahassee
      Speaker: Rod Smith, Perry McGriff, and Ed Jennings, Jr., Florida Senate and House

      Programming for Spring 2001

    17. Forum Topic: Cuba: Time for A Change?
      Speakers: Helen Safa, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Latin American Studies; and John Dumoulin, former Senior Researcher of the Cuban Academy of Science

    18. Forum Topic: Will My Ballot Count?
      Speaker: Beverly Hill, Supervisor of Elections

    19. Forum Topic: Children's Mental Health
      Speaker: Margarita LaBarta, Meridian Behavioral Services

    20. Forum Topic: Bill of Rights
      Speaker: Professor Jerold Israel
      UF law faculty

    21. Forum Topic: Legislative Update
      Speaker: Louis Kalivoda, Santa Fe Community College
      He is the coordinator, Criminal Justice Service at Santa Fe Community College


  8. What is immediately apparent about the 21 talks is that all the speakers appear to come from well placed establishment organizations/sources including a lawyer, reporter, mental health clinic, county government, two doctors, three politicians, three non profits, and ten professors. Indeed, it is impossible to know for certain, but these speakers certainly don't appear to be down and out suppressed whistleblowers and others desperately seeking to exercise their right of free speech about the ills of the world otherwise denied to them. Quite the contrary. One would assume all of these speakers have access to various other forums including the popular media, professional journals and University related classes, seminars, publications, etc.

  9. What is immediately apparent about the speakers' subjects is that they all appear to be totally unremarkable in the sense that one could expect to see any of them in the mainstream media.

  10. So where are the speeches by whistleblowers and others in desperate need of the support and exposure that a real free speech forum could provide? Where are the speeches from faculty/staff students who claim to have been abused by the University administration or some other Florida university? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers who claim to have had superior research programs suppressed by more powerful faculty with less promising programs? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers who have reported falsified research findings or grant proposals and were fired for their trouble? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers who believe elements of the medical school are making false or misleading claims for their modality of treatment? Where are the faculty/staff /students/volunteers who have witnessed people get unnecessarily sick or die at Shands due to improper diagnosis or treatment and it has been covered up? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers claiming sexual harassment? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers claiming to be victims of sex discrimination? Where are the faculty/staff/students/volunteers who claim the University grievance procedure is a sham?

  11. Where are the international faculty/staff/students/volunteers who have encountered such problems? Indeed, such problems can be very difficult for them because they may risk being forced to return to their own countries in disgrace due to US Immigration and Naturalization Service rules should they be dismissed from UF.

  12. Out of 50,000 faculty/staff/students are we to assume there just isn't anyone in such need? This university desperately needs a free speech forum that encompasses all of this and more, for the good of everyone.

  13. And beyond the University where are the speeches by whistleblowers and others in desperate need of the support and exposure that a real free speech forum could provide? Where are the speeches from people who claim to have been falsely accused of child molestation , The Facts.com . Where are the speeches of parents of children who claim their children were wrongly taken from them by the Florida Department of Children and Families? Where are the speeches of parents of children who have disappeared in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families? Where are the speeches of Moslems who claim their civil rights have been violated? Where are the speeches from the Moslem medical students who were arrested on Alligator Alley in 2002? Where are the speeches of death row inmates , or their families falsely convicted and later exonerated through DNA evidence? Where are the speeches from those who claim to have been overcharged by lawyers, abused by divorce court, abused by the criminal justice system, or otherwise abused by the legal system? Where are the speeches by those few Florida lawyers willing to accuse the Florida Bar of wasting huge sums of money on hyping its image when it should be spent on addressing its greed and corruption? Not here.

  14. Another problem is that the Forum doesn't appear to be getting very much exposure; a fact that could be easily remedied by placing the speeches on the Web. The site explains that in addition to the monthly forums, there are some associated discussions groups and monthly radio programs that carry the forum speeches on local radio; in all probably reaching a very limited audience. There are also some audio and video tapes available which don't appear to be available for the more recent speeches. In placing the speeches in the Web, they would reach all of Florida and a world wide audience; being thus easily accessible 24 hours/day in convenient form, drastically increasing exposure at minimum cost. However, as discussed below, until the Forum actually begins to function as a true free speech forum, the question of exposure is largely moot.


  15. The Florida Free Speech Forum doesn't live up to its billing or name; rather it is simply a current events forum. To be sure, it appears to be an interesting one. But by labeling it a free speech forum, it functions in just the opposite manner; protecting the status quo by creating the illusion for its participants and casual observers alike that it is in fact a forum for suppressed speech when it isn't. Furthermore, it functions to discourage whistleblowers; for when whistleblowers in desperate need of a forum examine it they will conclude that if this is what passes for a free speech forum at UF, they might well be advised to give up their effort.

  16. Indeed, this forum is in stark contrast to what is so desperately needed; a forum where whistleblowers and victims of wrongdoing have the opportunity to speak to a receptive and discriminating socially aware audience willing to risk their jobs and reputations individually or collectively if needs be for what they believe to be right. But here, it appears that neither the speakers are giving such speeches nor is the audience demanding such speeches. Am I demanding too much? No. Such risk taking was characteristic of many of the nation's founders and it is a necessary element of any healthy democracy, most particularly its universities. In these increasingly complicated times of globalization when academics display more concern about salaries and job stability than principle there is indeed a problem.

  17. But if the Forum could be induced to function in such a manner, just the threat of airing such issues before the Forum would go far to changing the behavior of those in the University and elsewhere engaged in behavior and activities that so badly need to be exposed.

    Return to Suppression of Free Speech at the University of Florida

    Email me at boballston@yahoo.com.