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by Alicia Juarrero, Philosophy

I am pleased to report that the first biennial seminar, Complexity 2002, held in Havana, Cuba, on January 7-11, 2002, was a resounding success.  I am delighted to have been permitted to serve as the U.S. organizer of this event, along with my Cuban colleague, Dr. Pedro Sotolongo, Research Fellow in Havana’s Instituto de Filosofia.  A sold-out audience of 120 participated, including 41 foreigners from 16 different countries including Argentina, Australia, Hungary, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, along with eight participants from the United States.  The keynote address was given by Fritjof Capra of Berkeley, California, author of the now classic text The Tao of Physics.  Papers and panel discussions that went from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. kept all participants very busy.

Thanks to this initiative begun in fall 2000, the Instituto de Filosofia also inaugurated a Chair in the Philosophical Implications of Complexity Theory last September.  The first course, currently being taught by Professor Sotolongo, has an enrollment of 50 students from 14 different "ministerios" (governmental departments), all of whom are studying this new scientific conceptual framework dealing with open systems far from equilibrium.

At a private meeting with most of the United States scholars in attendance at the seminar, the Cuban academics at the Instituto de Filosofia expressed their hopes that this event will be the first of a series of continuing collaborative efforts with philosophers outside the island who are interested in studying the philosophical, methodological, and epistemological implications of complexity theory.  The Cuban nationals also expressed particular interest in becoming better informed about opportunities in distance learning in this field: how to offer such courses, how to market them, etc. While the Cuban scholars have the academic expertise to provide the content for such Spanish-language interactive courses (which, incidentally, could find a very receptive audience in all of Latin America), they lack the technical expertise and equipment to do so.  They are keenly interested in working with Maryland academic institutions such as PGCC and UMUC in this area.  Why Maryland?  Because of old relationships between Cuban baseball teams and the Baltimore Orioles! (Remember ping-pong diplomacy?  Could baseball diplomacy be next?)

The first step in this process has already been taken in December 2001.  Prince George's Community College was granted a two-year special license that lifts travel restrictions for full-time PGCC faculty and administrators who travel to Cuba for purposes of a full-time schedule of academic activity.  Professor Eric Dent, Director of Doctoral Programs at UMUC, also in attendance at the seminar, offered to provide the Cubans with information about the system requirements used by UMUC in such courses.  Prior to doing anything, however, both Professor Dent and I appreciate that legal restrictions by the U.S. government pertaining even to academic relationships with Cuba must first be carefully researched in order to determine what is and what is not permitted by the Helms-Burton legislation concerning academic collaboration with this country.  To that end, I intend to continue working closely with Senator Sarbanes’ office staff, which was extremely helpful with getting this first seminar off the ground.

I strongly encourage full time PGCC faculty interested in developing and offering travel or distance learning courses in Cuba to contact me at 301-322-0948.


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 17, No. 3

Spring 2002