Faculty Members Lead Jindal School Students on Rare Trip to Cuba
University Administrators, Deans Joined Recent Journey to Learn About Changes Taking Place in Country
The group from UT Dallas learned about the cooperative movement in Cuba, where businesses are starting to organize around the interests of their workers through profit-sharing, a first under the 50-plus-year Castro-led government.
The Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas has made one of the first U.S. higher education forays to Cuba since the move to re-establish diplomatic relations with the socialist country was announced by the Obama administration in December.
During the trip, which took place over spring break last month, nearly two dozen undergraduate and MBA students embarked on a faculty-led trip to learn about business and trade with the large island nation that has effectively been sealed off from global commerce for decades.
The students, as well as UT Dallas deans and administrators, met with business leaders and economic officials in Havana, including the leaders of trade organizations with whom the lifting of sanctions will allow increasing contact in years to come.
“We are trying to band together a group of programs that will not only involve Jindal but a number of other schools and centers across UT Dallas,” said Dr. Magaly Spector, professor in practice and assistant to University President David E. Daniel for strategic initiatives.
“I was intrigued by what we saw: an organized group of seamstresses working within rules that had changed overnight and seemingly for the better,” said freshman Bethany Salgado, who traveled with the group to Cuba over spring break.
“The aim is to align various aspects of UT Dallas with our Cuban counterparts, so that a real and meaningful foundation can lead to an enduring, and in some ways exclusive, academic partnership with a rapidly evolving Cuba,” Spector said.
Spector and Dr. Habte Woldu, the Jindal School’s director of international management programs, organized the trip through months-long negotiations with the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC), the Fernando Ortiz Foundation and the University of Havana. During the trip, Spector met with the University of Havana’s vice chancellor for international affairs to discuss the next trip.
Spector and Woldu also designed the curriculum and selected the professors in Cuba who gave lessons on architecture, arts, religion and the African influence in Cuba.
Hugo Pons Duarte, vice president of ANEC and emeritus professor from the University of Havana, gave the students a broad, two-day survey of the island’s history and the effects of the U.S. embargo, all while offering a glimpse of a future economy that features less state control.
From trade executives and community organizers, the group learned about a cooperative movement backed by a government increasingly eager to divest from businesses that once fed directly into state coffers. Businesses, such as restaurants, textile shops and manufacturing facilities, are starting to organize around the interests of their workers through profit-sharing, a first under the 50-plus-year Fidel Castro-led government.
“We are trying to band together a group of programs that will not only involve Jindal but a number of other schools and centers across UT Dallas. The aim is to align various aspects of UT Dallas with our Cuban counterparts, so that a real and meaningful foundation can lead to an enduring, and in some ways exclusive, academic partnership with a rapidly evolving Cuba.”
By virtue of this program, UT Dallas is “getting in on the ground floor of a newly reborn Cuba that is shedding the last vestiges of an isolated economic existence,” said Thomas Henderson, JSOM’s assistant dean of undergraduate programs, who led the trip. Delegations from Johns Hopkins and Harvard arrived shortly after UT Dallas.
Many of the lessons learned didn’t take place in the classroom, but in the gritty streets of Old Havana or the dimly lit cooperatives that are starting to form the backbone of a new free enterprise in Cuba.
“I was intrigued by what we saw: an organized group of seamstresses working within rules that had changed overnight and seemingly for the better,” freshman Bethany Salgado said. “They were getting better wages and had more of a say in the direction of their work.”
The Fernando Ortiz Foundation, a nonprofit organization offering cultural education and support to groups and businesses interested in understanding Cuban cultural identity, is helping make those changes. The foundation will be part of similar Cuba programs in the future, considering this one worked so well, Henderson said.
The trip helped interweave the foundation into the program, and enhanced the site visits, including a stop at a currency exchange. Several students returned from Cuba without even a peso to spare, having traded their spending money for Cuban art and other items.
Students interested in the Jindal School’s faculty-led international programs to Cuba can learn more here. Applicants must be in good academic standing. They also may be eligible for scholarships.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].