Supporters of the University Students Without Borders Project want Cuba's communist government to tolerate autonomous colleges and also reopen Havana's Catholic University of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, which authorities shuttered in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro's revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"We are promoting a culture of free thinking despite the repression and fear hanging over us," said Nestor Rodriguez, who helped organize the petition drive with his brother Rolando.
The small group began seeking signatures in August 2006 and hopes to collect the 10,000 necessary to formally present its cause to Cuban lawmakers.
The brothers showed off a white cardboard box full of signatures before about 30 supporters who wore matching white T-shirts and were crammed into an apartment on a central Havana alley.
The brothers said they do not plan to present the petition to the government yet for fear that its signatories could be expelled from state-run universities. More than 2,000 of those who signed were college students, and the rest were university faculty members or professionals with college degrees, they said.
Their group said it presented a plan to reopen Santo Tomas de Villanueva to Roman Catholic officials last year, but had yet to receive a formal response. A church official said Tuesday he had not heard of the proposal.
Cuba had 650,000 registered university students for the 2006-2007 academic year, according to the National Office of Statistics.