The surveilled university
MICHAEL H. MIRANDA | Fayetteville | 8 de Junio de 2017 - 09:33 CEST.
Last week several photos of American students with their professors
appeared on the social networks in Havana. The images would not have
drawn too much attention if it were not due to the fact that the
situation demands some wariness regarding the consumption of the
regime's iconography: the students were seen walking through the halls
of the Museum of the Revolution, in front of photos of Fidel Castro and
grotesque caricatures of American presidents. Their presence was also
noteworthy because in recent months there have been expulsions of
students and professors from Cuban universities, without many members of
American academia voicing any protest.
Considerable controversy has surrounded the idea of academic exchange
travel to countries that are not free. There is already an American
embassy in Havana, but relations are still far from normal, principally
because the Americans' demands for fundamental rights in Cuba continue
to be flouted by Havana. Following the rise of Barack Obama to the
presidency in 2008, it seemed that the possibility of systematic student
travel had finally been established, and several universities even
created a position specifically to manage these exchanges.
The question that many ask is whether public funds should be used to
organize trips whose itineraries, apparently approved at high levels of
the Cuban Government, include visits to sites "of historical and social
interest" (we already know what this means and the particular roadmap to
be followed), a route on which certain points on the strategic horizon
of tropical totalitarianism occupy a privileged place: if there are
museums like that of the Revolution full of photos of a Caribbean
tyrant, why not the family sanctuary in Birán (the Castros birthplace),
Fidel's stone at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, and the Museum of the
Ministry of the Interior, so well portrayed by Antonio José Ponte in La
The Cuban writer and former political prisoner Rafael Saumell, who
serves as a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas,
appreciates the academic freedom that exists in the vast majority of
Western universities, but notes that he would never dedicate himself to
such a job. "Given the political pedigree of a few colleagues, there is
always the risk of using funds for indoctrination. The apologists for
diversity tend to be timorous in their censure of the expulsions of
professors and students who do not follow the Party line," he says.
It turns out that the aims of these trips could easily be questioned.
After all, the students could improve their Spanish and cultural
knowledge with less of an effort and sacrifice in the most
Mexican-influenced neighborhoods of Austin, Phoenix or Los Angeles. What
does the exhibition of a tank of the Rebel Army, a monument to Che
Guevara, or a visit to an independent dairy in Matanzas have to do with
the use of the subjunctive? Or is it a specific type of Spanish, one
that spurns its richest rules and elements, in favor of the impoverished
language found in the likes of Granma? At what point did American
universities, with the magnanimous (and even eager) assent of deans and
professors, decide that a lesson in normalization was in order, but only
while tiptoeing around their counterparts' recurrent breaches of
standards and violations of freedoms?
If American public universities do not know that in Cuba the expulsion
of students and professors who are not sympathetic to the regime is a
common practice, at least it could be said that they are uninformed. But
if they do know it, but still insist on signing collaboration agreements
with these institutions, they should expect revulsion and criticism for
using taxpayer funds to subject students to an agenda so distant from a
legitimate "cultural exchange" and so subservient to the Cuban
Government's political machinations.
Obama is history. Time may be running out on his policy of
normalization, while the regime erected by the Castros still stands, and
is hardly moving in the direction of open societies. We do not yet know
whether the Trump Administration will cancel or restrict these contacts.
What we can be sure of is that, if it does, American universities will
demand, vociferously and through every channel, their right to these
travel programs, and the uproar will only be comparable to their silence
and reticence to aid those subjected to the severe rigors of the other
university... the surveilled one.
Source: The surveilled university | Diario de Cuba -