Friday, January 4, 2008

Battle of Ideas

Some good news was published on Wednesday in the Miami Herald. Gary Fineout reports that the Florida Board of Governors, which heads the State University System, "has told a federal judge to throw out part of a state law that bans colleges from spending money to send professors to Cuba and other 'state sponsors' of terrorism."

The state law, called "The Travel Act," was passed unanimously in 2006 by the Florida Legislature, and banned the use of state, federal and private dollars by Florida universities for academic travel to countries labeled "state-sponsors of terrorism" by the US government. One of the sponsors of The Travel Act, Rep. David Rivera, argued that:

"Anyone who understands the totalitarian nature of the Castro regime and its absolute control over information would conclude that research trips to Cuba are completely void of credibility."

In June 2006, the ACLU, and several Florida university professors and students filed a lawsuit challenging The Travel Act. Bruce Hauptli, chairperson of the FIU Faculty Senate in 2006, argued:

"I believe the Travel Act must be contested because it is essential that we learn and teach the truth about other societies... It is clear that we need to have such learning and teaching to inform our policies and decisions regarding anti-democratic terrorist states... To cut off scholarly ties with, and to prevent our scholars from gaining first-hand knowledge of these societies is short-sighted and may even be risky to our national security in the long run... We need to know more about such states, and ongoing scholarly contacts and exchanges are an important element in acquiring such knowledge.”

Opposition to The Travel Act is part of a larger power struggle between the Board of Governors and the State Legislature over the State University System (SUS), which comprises all the public universities of Florida.

The Board of Governors (BOG) was created in 2003 after former Sen. Bob Graham led a successful campaign opposed to the dismantling of the Florida Board of Regents in 2000 by then-Governor Jeb Bush and the Legislature. The State argued that the Board of Regents, which administered the public universities for more than 30 years, was inefficient and unresponsive to local needs. But Graham noticed that the unprecedented power and political influence of the State, through the Florida Board of Education, was "harming the university system." After a petition drive to collect half a million signatures, public debates on how our public universities should be run, and have voters ultimately decide on the creation of the BOG, Graham's battle still continues over control of the SUS.

Today, Scott Travis of the Sun-Sentinel reports on the ongoing battle between the powers of the BOG and the State, as a lawsuit challenges the authority of the State Legislature to set university tuition rates in Florida. The lawsuit, which was originally filed "by former Gov. Bob Graham, former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey Jr. and others," was recently rejected in court, but will be refiled. According to the Miami Herald, and its interview with SUS Chancellor Mark Rosenberg, the Board of Governors will be standing firm in challenging the authority of the State Legislature over the public universities.

According to Mark Rosenberg, academic freedoms are "sacrosanct" and he feels that the State has abused its authority, especially in respect to The Travel Act prohibiting academic travel to Cuba. In addition, Rosenberg should know well about the history of US-Cuba relations since he is a former professor of Latin American studies, and one of the founders of Florida International University's Latin American and Caribbean Center, which currently includes the Cuban Research Institute.

It should be apparent that The Travel Act is part of US/Cuba politics and the battle of ideas in Miami, ultimately in defense of the hard-line exile identity.

[Phil Peters of the Cuban Triangle Blog has additional thoughts on this story.]

[Photo of Havana University by Roman Virdi from]

No comments: