Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tufts Adjusts Program to New Regulations

Faculty seeks approval for study abroad program in Cuba

By Daphne Kolios, Tufts Daily

Students and faculty are working to overcome administrative hurdles to gain approval for a non-Tufts study abroad program in Cuba in an effort to align student travel and study in the country with recently passed federal law.
Several Tufts faculty members conceived of the study abroad program in conjunction with members of the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Research, a postdoctoral research institute focused on the social sciences of culture and culture policy. The institute would serve as the host for the program and local professors would teach courses.
With travel restrictions to Cuba easing since 2001, Tufts students have been able to study in the country for short periods of time under the university's license for academic travel to Cuba.
Recent U.S. legislation, however, has necessitated that students studying abroad must now demonstrate that classes taken while in Cuba are accepted for credit by their university, according to José Antonio Mazzotti, chair of the Department of Romance Languages. The legislation holds that American students interested in studying abroad in the country are now not allowed to do so unless they can show that they are sponsored by an accredited university to receive academic credit.
Tufts faculty members conceived of the program last year as a fundamentally non-Tufts program after requests to start a Tufts program in Cuba were denied by the administration, according to professor emeritus Claudia Kaiser-Lenoir, a former associate professor in the Department of Romance Languages, who was one of the main faculty members involved in the program's inception.
Under the proposed program, students would take classes through the Juan Marinello Institute, an organization for which there is no equivalent in the U.S. education system, according to Kaiser-Lenoir, who has served as the primary liaison with the institute.
"[It's] a mix between a think tank within a field of expertise and an institution for advanced research within the university," she said.
Questions regarding the research-oriented nature of the institute, however, have complicated the approval process. Tufts' policy requires that study abroad programs be offered through accredited degree-granting institutions, according to Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences James Glaser, and the Cuban institution does not meet this requirement.
The policy ensures the legitimacy of students' study abroad requests, Glaser said.
"The fact that it's … an accredited degree-granting [institution] gives us some assurance that certain requirements have been met, and so we don't have to go into every university and know every detail of how they're operating," Glaser said. "The accreditation tells us that this has been looked up by people who are knowledgeable and it's been given their stamp of approval."
Kaiser-Lenoir explained that the institute was chosen as the host institution because of its broad research in the social sciences and because professors for the courses offered come from Cuban universities.
"In several trips, we contacted the [Institute] and they were very open to holding meetings with our students … so when we starting thinking about what kind of place we could find to have a program that would offer this kind of very interdisciplinary environment, we thought about [it]," Kaiser-Lenoir said. "There are many others … but the Juan Marinello was the one that had the intellectual range that seemed to fit the students that we would take."
Since the institute does not grant degrees, discussion is ongoing about changes that would have to be made to the program to align it with university standards and allow Tufts students to attend, according to Glaser.
Thus far, the program's supporters have worked to demonstrate that the Juan Marinello Institute is comparable to a graduate school under the U.S. higher education system.
If the program is not approved for Tufts students in its proposed form, an alternative would be to seek an affiliation with another institution, according to Mazzotti.
A future possibility would also be to open the program to students from other universities.
Mazzotti emphasized that those involved are receptive to making the necessary alterations to ensure the program's viability and compliance with university standards.
The International Relations Program, the International Letters and Visual Studies Program, the Latin American Studies Program, the Department of Romance Languages and the Institute for Global Leadership have endorsed the program and are involved in getting administrative support, he added.
Students have also been working to demonstrate interest in this proposal, initiating a petition in mid-April once they learned of the logistical issues that had arisen, according to rising junior Rosario Dominguez, one of those involved.
"What [we're] trying to do is show the administration that there's a lot of student support for this, there's a lot of interest," rising junior Miguel Zamora-Mills, another petition organizer, said. "We're trying to show that this would be a fantastic opportunity for Tufts, even if it's not a Tufts program."
Dominguez considered a Cuba study abroad program beneficial as a way to educate students about the country.
"This would provide a wonderful opportunity for Tufts students to be in Cuba at a very interesting time in Cuba's history," Dominguez said. "Most importantly, as active citizens, we should be responsible … and knowledgeable of relations with Cuba, because … we don't have this past of the Cold War and Fidel [Castro]. It's turning a new page in U.S.-Cuba relations, which could potentially be very interesting."
Kaiser-Lenoir noted that if the program is approved for Tufts credit, it would build on a legacy of student involvement in Cuba starting in 2001.
The program's organizers, however, are committed to ensuring the program's availability to Tufts students for credit.
"[That's] part of what we do here as faculty," Mazzotti said. "We open possibilities, a place for Tufts students to learn different ways to approach social, cultural and political issues while, in this specific case, taking a first-hand look at historical experiences on environmental care, public health issues, ethnic diversity — in this case Afro-Cuban — and many other aspects of this particular and unique Latin American country."

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