University officials are considering changes to a policy that bans the University from sponsoring study abroad programs in countries deemed dangerous by the federal government.
The University’s current policy does not allow it to sponsor study abroad programs in countries under U.S. Department of State travel warnings. And while students interested in traveling to these areas may do so by participating in programs offered by other institutions and transferring the credits, University administrators have started reconsidering the University’s policy.
According to the State Department’s website, 35 countries currently have travel warnings, which are issued when a country is considered “unstable or dangerous” for an extended period of time. These countries include Egypt, Haiti, Iran, the Philippines, Mexico and Israel.
Mark Tessler, the University’s vice provost of international affairs, gave a presentation on internationalization at the University at a Feb. 17 University Board of Regents meeting. Tessler said his office works to realize the University’s goal of expanding the number of students who study abroad.
“In the last few years, the number of students going abroad has doubled,” he said at the meeting. “And we’re proud of that, but we think there is more to be done.”
Following his presentation at the Regents meeting, the Board began a discussion about reconsidering the University’s policy, in which regents asked University Provost Phil Hanlon to see that the existing policy was re-evaluated. The re-evaluation was also partially spurred by a petition in support for a program abroad in Israel. The petition was organized by WolvPAC, a student group focused on improving campus relations between the United States and Israel, and was signed by 1,019 students as of 7 p.m. last night.
Since February, Tessler has been working with a small task force to consider changes to the policy. In an interview late last month, Hanlon said the task force has already gathered information about the study abroad practices at other Universities. University officials’ evaluation of the study abroad policy is scheduled to be completed in the next month or two, at which time a report will be released, Hanlon said.
“We’re looking at what other places do to see if we want to reconsider our process and our policy here,” Hanlon said.
Sometimes the travel warnings aren’t a good enough reason to ban studying abroad in an entire country since only parts of the country may be dangerous while other areas may be safe enough to host students, Hanlon said.
“The State Department advisory is kind of a blunt instrument,” he said. “Either the country is on the advisory or it’s not on the advisory.”
LSA sophomore Caroline Canning, author of the WolvPAC petition, said the group created the petition to show support for a program in Israel despite the travel warning to the country. Canning said about 40 students study abroad in Israel each winter semester through programs not affiliated with the University.
“We think this should be a priority because the University has a global reach and should have this partnership,” she said.
The group expected some negative feedback, Canning said, because of the controversy surrounding Israel, but so far the petition has garnered support from people on and beyond campus.
“We really have only received positive reactions,” she said. “We’ve gotten e-mails from alumni stating their support for this program and also from students who are really happy that this might be a possibility for them.”
Canning added that without a University program, some students she’s spoken to can’t pursue a semester in Israel for various reasons.
Though Hanlon said a top priority of the University is to increase the opportunities for students to study abroad, he acknowledged the risk factor for the University sponsoring programs in countries experiencing turmoil. Hanlon cited students studying abroad in Egypt who recently had to be evacuated from their program when conditions became dangerous, adding that changing the policy would involve factoring in hazards like that.
“There’s a risk management piece to this, which doesn’t mean we won’t do it,” Hanlon said. “We think there’s a lot of value to it.”