Lawsuit challenges Florida law on research exchanges from “prohibited countries”

In a bid to challenge a newly implemented state law restricting research exchanges between Florida universities and scholars from seven designated nations, a professor alongside two Chinese graduate students has taken legal action against Florida education officials. The lawsuit, filed on March 25, aims to halt the legislation enforcement, which the plaintiffs argue infringes upon federal jurisdiction and undermines academic freedom.

The legislation, approved by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis last year, seeks to curtail external influences, particularly from the Chinese Communist government, on the state’s public colleges and institutions, according to Associated Press reports. The law identifies China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela as nations subject to the restrictions.

Citing federal authority over immigration, national security, and international affairs, the lawsuit contends that the state law oversteps its bounds by interfering with matters within the purview of the federal government. It highlights the law’s adverse impact on academic pursuits, particularly for the two Chinese graduate students whose studies at Florida International University were suspended due to their nationality.

According to the lawsuit, the new law also usurps the federal government’s authority, which is the only one with jurisdiction over immigration, national security, and international affairs. Two Chinese plaintiffs were denied admission into their research facilities and were forced by law to halt their graduate studies at Florida International University.

Moreover, a University of Florida professor, who hails from China, asserts that the law has hindered his ability to recruit postdoctoral applicants for research assistance, consequently impeding his scholarly output. The plaintiffs emphasise that they have no affiliations with the Chinese Communist Party or the government, debunking assumptions underlying the state law.

The plaintiffs claimed in their case that they were not affiliated with the Communist Party or the Chinese government. 

The law states that hiring foreign students from the banned countries is permitted on an individual basis with permission from the state Board of Education or the Board of Governors, which is in charge of state universities. However, the lawsuit claimed that the law’s “vagueness and lack of adequate guidance empowers and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement across Florida.”

The legislation “is having and will have far-reaching stigmatising effects against individuals from China and of Asian descent who are seeking academic employment in Florida public universities and colleges, including plaintiffs, as Florida law now presumptively deems them a danger to the United States”, the suit stated. 

Efforts to obtain comments from the state Department of Education and the governor’s office remained unanswered at the time of reporting.

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