University of Florida launches formal investigation after reports of pressure to destroy Covid-19 research data

The University of Florida launches formal investigation after reports of Covid-19 research data being destroyed and delayed.

(CNN) -- A formal investigation has been launched by the University of Florida after an internal report detailed a culture of fear among faculty members claiming political influence on campus as well as instances of pressure to destroy and delay publication of COVID-19 research data.

Vice President of UF Research David Norton announced the investigation in an email to faculty and staff Friday morning, according to the university. The email indicates the results of the investigation will be made public upon completion, but did not give a timeline.

"UF Research became aware of possible violations of the UF Policy on Research Integrity," Norton wrote in an email, saying the possible violation relates "to the reported destruction of COVID-19 research data at UF."

Asked if the university was aware of actual destruction of data, the school said the investigation would be looking into that.

The allegations were detailed in the Faculty Senate report, released Monday.

The committee did not name specific individuals, in order to protect the jobs of faculty members, Dr. Danaya Wright, a professor at the University of Florida and one of six authors listed on the report told CNN.

"I don't know that we need a smoking gun, in particular, to say that this is coming from state government, governmental entities," Wright said.

The report identifies challenges in the partnership with the State of Florida, with which the university worked jointly on COVID-19 research.

The issues noted in the report include, "external pressure to destroy deidentified data, barriers to accessing and analyzing deidentified data in a timely manner, and barriers to publication of scientific research." These issues created "challenges" for faculty to contribute scientific findings during a world-wide pandemic, the report summarized.

A spokesperson for Florida's governor denied any involvement.

"Governor (Ron) DeSantis does not interfere with the internal matters of UF, which this is. Nobody from our office has told UF professors to refrain from criticizing any state policies," said spokesperson Christina Pushaw.

"Everyone in the academic community is free to share their opinions and critiques of policies. The governor is confident in UF leadership and proud that the university has risen in the national rankings to one of the top 5 public research universities in the country," Pushaw said.

The Faculty Senate report was the result of a three-week investigation looking into academic freedom at the university after three full-time professors were barred from testifying as paid experts in a lawsuit brought against the state that dealt with voting rights.

The university later reversed its decision after facing intense public criticism.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to make clear there has been no confirmation that COVID-19 research data has been destroyed.

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