JANUARY 03, 2008
The board that runs Florida’s public university system wants a federal judge to lift a state law banning the use of taxpayer money to pay for academic trips to nations that sponsor terrorism.
The panel has even hired, at taxpayer expense, a high-profile Florida law firm (Holland & Knight) to challenge the law which aims to prevent public dollars from being spent on jaunts to countries such as Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan which appear on the State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations.
The education board claims that the travel ban runs afoul of the academic freedom accorded to universities under the First Amendment. It also contends that, while state lawmakers can tell universities how to spend taxpayer money, the legislature does not have the authority to order universities how they can spend federal research grants.
Finally, the public board, which oversees 11 colleges, maintains in its court challenge that Florida’s Constitution gives it autonomy over university research and educational activities. This may include taxpayer-funded academic trips to nations run by governments that, not only sponsor terrorism, but hate the United States.
The law banning such travel on the public’s dime was passed in 2006 in response to the indictments of a south Florida university professor (Carlos Alvarez) and an administrator (Elsa Alvarez) who admitted they were unregistered agents for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. For years, they traveled to Cuba on so-called academic trips and used their public university equipment to work for its Communist government on U.S. taxpayer time. Both are currently serving federal prison sentences.
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