ACLU FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST CUBA ACADEMIC TRAVEL BAN-Andrew Stelzer

06/13/06

As we reported last month here on WMNF, the Florida legislature passed a law which prevented students and professors from using state and non-state funds to travel to any country which was a sponsor of terrorism for academic research. The ban covers five countries, Syria, Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and the country for which the law was largely designed, Cuba. Now the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the ban, and is hoping that a judge will level an injection before the law takes effect on July 1st. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has more.

ACT-smith “If people want to go to Cuba, they're gonna have to go someplace else..�

Noelle Smith is the curator Latin American and Caribbean art at the institute for research and art at the University of South Florida. Smith has been to Cuba several times since 1999, when USF set up a program with Cuba in which creates artwork and, publications, and visual and other arts activities. Now she’s one of the plaintiffs in the ACLUs lawsuit against a new state law, which would cut off virtually all possible funding for future research projects in Cuba.

ACT-Smith “I travel to cubs in order to conduct my research and we bring artists to USF, and this will have a tremendously deleterious effect, apart from that there an issue of academic freedom and I have a responsibility to protect and uphold..�

There are 9 total plaintiffs in the suit. Besides Smith from USF, they include the faculty senate of Florida international university, a University of central Florida professor who routinely travels to Iran for research, 2 grad students, faculty at the university of Florida, and Fl international university, along with 2 grad students. Randall Marshall is the legal council for the Florida ACLU.

ACT-Marshall “We have challenged the law as violating the constitution in 2 ways, the federal government, and its our belief that the Florida leg. Secondarily is the interference with academic freedom to continue on their research in area that will be prohibited..�

Florida state university also has a program in which a student has traveled to Sudan, although that school has not joined the suit. Smith, who’s’ worked at USF for 12 years, says the importance of letting academics study what interest them can not be overstated

ACT-smith “I think academic freedom is one of the hallmarks of our democracy it should be protected and sometimes I think the more touchy the subjects are the more we need to be studying those in a non political academic way..�

Marshall from the ACLU says while there are 5 countries on the state departments list of terrorist sponsoring nations, the law is clearly focused on Cuba, and it will have a negative effect on knowledge the state of Florida needs to protect its own citizens.

ACT-Marshall “Florida is intertwined, ecosystems, that goes for agriculture and other things as well…�

The new law was largely the work of Miami area state representative Adam Rivera, who admitted it was done in large part to please his Cuban exile constituents. Last month, after the bill passed, state Representative Rivera told WMNF that the ban still left academics with options.

ACT-Rivera “People can still go to Cuba, but not with taxpayer resources..if private foundations are willing, they should be willing to pay directly to the professor so that research is conducted..�

But Randall Marshall from the ACLU says Rivera has been misleading the public

ACT-Marshall “He’s actually disingenuous and had been spreading that from day 1..let me read it..no state or non-state can be used and it goes onto no concievabele..and so that to the extent the rep, he’s being dishonest, and must know it because the matter is quite clear..�

Marshall says that if it was a matter of only states funds, the lawsuit would likely never have been filed, because none of the universities in Florida have been using their own money to fund travel to the countries on the list. Instead, students and professors, get funding through private organizations.

ACT-Marshall “The large institutions don’t fund people, they fund people through university. Also if they got funds, the moment that faculty member used his or her office, that would be prohibited also, and they have to use university, its very impractical and is designed to shut down all research..’

Noelle Smith from USF says that funding for her trips were provided by private agencies, but because the funds were administered through the university, they would not be allowed under the new law.

ACT-Smith “This covers grants, federal grants, private foundation, state grants and private funding you can think of..and since most faculty members when you write a grants are managed through the state university system, we would be ineligible to use those monies..�

The ACLU has filed a preliminary injunction motion to try and enjoin the law before it takes effect July 1st. Marshall says there is precedent in the academics favor

ACT “We have a law in Miami, said you cant do business in Cuba, that was struck down, also the various municipalities in Mass tried to do the same thing in Burma and that was struck down by the US supreme court..�

To view the lawsuit, log onto http://www.aclufl.org/news_events/index.cfm?action=viewRelease&emailAlertID=1926 and click on “news and events�

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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