Friday, January 4, 2008

Florida's universities and Cuba research

The Palm Beach Post and the Herald report on an interesting development regarding the amazing 2006 Florida law that bans Florida colleges and universities from conducting academic travel to Cuba.

The law is under challenge in federal court because, in addition to controlling the use of state government money, it also bars state schools from using money they raise privately to carry out research projects in Cuba.

Last month, Florida’s Board of Governors, a government body that oversees state colleges and universities, asked the court to overturn that last part of the law so that research could be conducted with non-taxpayer funds. (Mambi Watch fills in a lot of the context.)

Florida Representative David Rivera, champion of the original law, is sticking to his guns. Even if no specific appropriation is involved, a professor planning to do Cuba research would “be using his desk, his phone, his computer to execute that travel,” he told the Herald, and that’s too much to bear. Furthermore, “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,” Rivera told the Post.

The first thing to say here is that it’s good Mr. Rivera was not in charge when armies of American academics were trying to understand the Soviet Union.

But more to the point, Mr. Rivera is operating from a perfectly insulated bubble, inhabited only by him and his assumptions. Apparently he does not travel to Cuba to see what kind of information-gathering is possible. And he doesn’t read real research that is done in Cuba, much of which makes no reference at all to government information, or shines a critical light on government information. Leave aside all the topics in Cuba that matter to Florida and other parts of America – agriculture, environment, economic development – it is impossible under Florida law for a state university professor to get a grant to go to Cuba, do nothing but interview dissidents, and come back and publish their words.

It’s sad for Florida that a university system that could lead our nation in producing research on Cuba is shackled by this law. And sadder still that there’s a real constituency for it. But it’s encouraging to see a state government body step out and agree with those who are fighting it in court.


leftside said...

Phil, you are either for studying the terrorists or against us...

My experience with Florida based scholarship on Cuba is that most of it is pretty useless because of its political taint. Of course there are exceptions, but when you take money from the Government to be part of a regime change policy, it kinda muddles the words academic freedom and independence.

theCardinal said...

Mr. Peters - I have met Mr. Rivera...I have dealt with Mr. Rivera and must state that your assessment is too generous.

I am no fan of universities shilling for the Castro Bros. but I do believe in academic freedom. In addition David Rivera is a troglodyte on issues concerning Cuba. More than once he has injected the state legislature and Republican Party in foreign policy issues that do not concern it.

Personally I think all the money going to football coaches is a bigger crime than a phone or a desk paid with state dollars being used to plan a trip to Cuba.