Did the University of Florida Suspend Conservative Student Groups?

The groups had an event that allegedly violated campus COVID-19 guidelines.

Earlier this month, Rep. Madison Cawthorn claimed that the University of Florida had suspended conservative clubs on campus:

The conservative clubs in question held a joint event on campus and it is alleged the clubs had not filed the proper paperwork to reserve the space, Norman Field. The university also stated in a letter to the clubs that allegedly “event attendees were observed not complying with the Student Behavioral Expectations in Response to COVID-19 and the Campus Events Guidelines in Response to COVID-19 policies by failing to wear appropriate face coverings and/or maintain appropriate physical distance.”

This letter was sent to Turning Point USA, the Network of Enlightened Women, and the Young Americans for Freedom—Fox News reported that College Republicans are “not an officially recognized student organization.” The clubs have been placed on interim suspension “pending resolution of the allegations.” This interim suspension includes a temporary inability to reserve university space.

Cawthorn’s director of communications Micah Bock responded to a request for comment, emailing The Dispatch Fact Check: “To my understanding the burden rests on the University to prove a violation. The university hasn’t proven one yet have they?”

In a statement provided to The Dispatch Fact, a University of Florida spokesperson said, “In accordance with our standard practice, the university has not taken, and would not take, action against a student or registered student group based on the viewpoint they represent or the content of their speech.” The statement notes that the university has photographic evidence of students at the event without masks and not social distancing, as well as text messages showing the groups were aware that they needed to file paperwork for the event. Steve Orlando, Assistant Vice President for Communications, told The Dispatch Fact Check that the evidence cannot be publicly shared “as it is protected under federal student privacy law (FERPA).”

UF TPUSA’s secretary told Fox News that she’d heard the president of College Republicans—which is not affiliated with the university—would be reserving the field. Per the University of Florida’s Campus Events and Gathering Policies in response to COVID-19, “the university is not scheduling new non-UF person, group, or organization requests for in person activities at University Properties.” The president of the school’s TPUSA chapter made different claims regarding the situation, with UF’s campus paper The Independent Florida Alligatorreporting that he stated in his appeal to the university that he had not reserved the event space because he thought it wasn’t necessary to reserve public property. The president said similar things to Breitbart, which quotes him as saying, “We didn’t properly reserve the space, and because of that, they say we violated their ‘use of space’ policy.”

The university web page for Norman Field states that the field “can be reserved for special events,” a message that Wayback Machine archives of the page show has been present for some time. 

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