A coalition of professors who unsuccessfully challenged Bush administration restrictions on educational travel to Cuba are hopeful that next year President Barack Obama will rescind the regulations that abruptly ended university programs there, a lawyer for the coalition says.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this month sided against the Emergency Coalition to Defend Educational Travel, saying that the restrictions the government adopted in 2004 support a government interest and do not violate professors’ free speech rights because the regulations are content-neutral.
But the three-judge panel—Judges Laurence Silberman, Janice Rogers Brown, and Harry Edwards—did not take up the nature and scope of academic freedom. The coalition’s lawyer, Robert Muse of Muse & Associates, says the coalition may seek Supreme Court review to determine the extent to which the government can interfere with the ability to teach abroad. Muse says the D.C. Circuit's ruling was disappointing because, among other things, it did not explore and establish standards for international travel.
In 2004, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control set a minimum duration of 10 weeks for educational programs in Cuba (although universities’ intersession programs are often much shorter than that). The regulations also state that a professor must be a full-time faculty member. (One lead plaintiff, Wayne Smith, is an adjunct professor of Latin American studies at the Johns Hopkins University.) Students in the program must be enrolled in the sponsoring institution.
The regulations were designed to cut down on apparent abuse of study-abroad programs. Government lawyers said in briefs that some travelers were engaged in “disguised tourism” through academic programs.
“Indeed, even under the new regulations, professors remain free to teach in Cuba so long as they and their institutional employers establish programs in accordance with the regulations. Nothing—at least nothing under American law—prevents or ever has prevented Professor Smith from lecturing on his favored topics,” Silberman wrote in the opinion.