Amid a growing online controversy, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration reversed itself Wednesday and will invite a scholar to deliver a talk, days after canceling it without explanation.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner apologized to Florida State University professor Diane Roberts and issued a statement that she can speak “on the topic of her choosing.” Detzner also said he wants to find out “if everything was handled appropriately” after learning that an agency employee resigned in protest over the incident.
Roberts, an author and commentator who also writes opinion articles for the Tampa Bay Times, is a frequent critic of Scott’s policies. She had been invited to speak Thursday at the state-run Mission San Luis on a favorite topic, the deterioration of Florida’s lakes, rivers and springs.
But last week a spokeswoman for Detzner, Brittany Lesser, said that an “internal decision” was made to cancel Roberts’ talk because it did not directly relate to Mission San Luis’ emphasis on historical resources.
Roberts said she was amused by the controversy but appreciated Detzner’s call Wednesday.
“He was as nice as he could be. He also told me about 400 times how much he values water,” Roberts said.
Jessica Kindrick, who has worked at the mission since last June, resigned Tuesday to protest the state’s decision to silence Roberts.
“Academic integrity is extremely important to any cultural heritage institution,” she said. “I’m tired of these institutions being stifled because people run them on a business model.”
Kindrick, 24, is a graduate student at FSU completing a master’s degree in museum and cultural heritage studies. She said she planned to resign her $11-an-hour job by the end of the summer to accept a teaching position in her home state of Texas.
Kindrick said mission director Robert Blount III suggested she quit if she didn’t like the way the agency was run, and that he asked her if she had a “death wish.”
Kindrick had posted anonymous comments on reddit.com under the headline: “Rick Scott’s cronies politically censor Tallahassee, FL museum lecture.”
Detzner’s office did not respond to written requests by the Herald/Times to respond to Kindrick’s version of events or to interview Blount.