U of Miami President Meets Faculty Concerned About Cuba Policy

September 1, 2017

A group of faculty members at the University of Miami whose research or teaching relates to Cuba met with President Julio Frenk on Tuesday to discuss the university’s recent announcement that it would not enter into institutional agreements with the Cuban government or its universities. The announcement was made following a meeting between Frenk and leaders of local Cuban exile groups, leading faculty and others to express concern that the university was allowing outside organizations to drive its intellectual agenda.

In an interview, Frenk said he emphasized to faculty members that individual scholarly exchanges with Cuba will continue.

“The University of Miami already has a very vigorous series of joint projects with Cuban colleagues,” Frenk said. ”I made very clear in the meeting with the exiles that the university would continue to facilitate those exchanges.”

“The only thing that we are not planning to do is to have at the institutional level, a university level, a formal memorandum of understanding.” The reason for that, Frenk said, is because the university does not want to condone or legitimize a nondemocratic regime that violates human rights. He said the desire for the university to engage with Cuba without legitimizing its government arose as areas of "consensus" in listening sessions about Cuba he held with faculty and Cuban-American community members shortly after his inauguration as president in 2016: 

“I made an impassionate defense of academic freedom,” Frenk said. “Because of academic freedom I would never stop a faculty member from the University of Miami from collaborating with any colleague anywhere in the world, but I want our institutional agreements to be held to the same standard. Unfortunately today because of the lack of autonomy Cuban universities do not enjoy academic freedom,” said Frenk. 

The six faculty members who attended the meeting issued a joint statement about it.

“The gathered faculty expressed multiple concerns about the recent Cuba policy statement, its perceived political motivations, and its potential to impact adversely the ability of faculty to pursue their research freely,” said the statement, which was signed by Victor Deupi, a lecturer in architecture; J. Tomas Lopez, a professor and chair of the art and art history department; Lillian Manzor, an associate professor and chair of the modern languages and literatures department; William J. Pestle, an associate professor of anthropology and director of the Latin American Studies Program; Kate Ramsey, an associate professor of history; and Tanya L. Zakrison, an associate professor of surgery. 

“While the gathered faculty remain concerned with some aspects of the statement, and its origins, they were heartened to hear the administration’s defense of the faculty’s unfettered ability to: travel to Cuba, continue to work with Cuban colleagues on the island and in Miami, teach about Cuba, pursue agreements with Cuban colleagues and institutions, and carry out research as they see fit," the statement says. "Furthermore, the faculty representatives welcomed the administration’s defense of the fundamental independence of critical academic inquiry and its assurance that faculty would be protected from undue outside interference with said work. The faculty present look forward to working more closely with the administration in the future as the University of Miami seeks to position itself as a leader in the study of Cuba and the Caribbean, and they were reassured that this process would take place in a way that privileges and protects academic freedom and international collaboration.”


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