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After significant pressure from students and faculty, the College has repealed its policy of withholding funding and credit for study, research, and travel in some countries that the State Department identifies as risky for travel.
The previous restrictions, which aimed to deter student travel to Israel, Iran, Kenya, Lebanon, Colombia, and seven other countries with any State Department travel advisory, were put in place last fall.
The State Department has different levels of travel warnings for countries, ranging from those that warn U.S. citizens to avoid travel altogether to those that urge extreme caution during travel. The College will still prohibit support for study, research, and extracurricular or volunteer activities in those countries that carry the strongest travel warning—a list of 15 that includes Haiti, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
Director of the Office of International Programs Jane Edwards said the College’s former policy was “too restrictive” for many students hoping to study in countries with “an acceptable level of risk.”
“We feel that for an academic institution of this kind, we need to be able to accept that level of responsibility,” Edwards said.
A year ago, concerns about Harvard’s liability for students’ safety abroad compelled the College to tighten its travel policy.
But more than 400 students, faculty, and staff signed an online petition last spring asking the College to reconsider the policy. They suggested it was adhering too much to the State Department’s travel-warning list, which identifies almost 30 countries as risky.
In response, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 asked a nine-person committee of faculty, administrators, a representative from the University’s General Counsel, and a student to reevaluate Harvard’s travel policy early this summer.
The committee met twice, most recently last week, and recommended that Harvard revert to its old policy. After consulting with the Faculty Council yesterday, Gross adopted the policy changes.
Committee members say their recommendation was motived by student and faculty pressure.
Chair of the Committee on Education Abroad John H. Coatsworth, who was the only committee dissenter to the College’s earlier policy and who served on Gross’ committee, said that the restrictions had detracted from the effortsof departments “training students to be experts, or at least knowledgeable, in parts of the world that were now off-limits.”
Committee member Matthew R. Greenfield ’08 said committee members were not “content with the way the new policy has played out in terms of students’ having fewer liberties than ever before in terms of travel.”
Edwards, who helped decide on both the original policy and its revision, said that the implications of the old travel restrictions and better pre-departure advising helped change her mind about the policy.
Students planning travel to countries with State Department warnings must now complete a waiver form and write a statement acknowledging travel risks.
Edwards said that the new procedures do not completely absolve Harvard of liability issues.
“The concern is with people who have not even thought about the safety precautions and who just say, ‘This country sounds great. I want to go,’” said Greenfield. “Those defenses against liability, and those defenses toward protecting students, force students to truly consider the implications in terms of safety before departing.”
Committee members said they also considered travel policies at other universities. Both Yale and Brandeis do not follow the State Department travel guidelines. Instead, they have their own lists of restricted countries drawn up by faculty committees.
But the committee decided not to adopt such a policy because it would place a significant “burden” on the faculty, according to Edwards.
“We had information about the policies pursued by other universities and the decision which we took was to put Harvard back in the middle range, not the most liberal, but not any longer the most restrictive,” said Coatsworth.
Greenfield said he was surprised by the speed of the policy change.
“I am glad that the new policy has been implemented before this year’s round of fellowship applications,” said Proud Dzambukira ’07, who led the online petition last spring.
“My hope is that this policy will be able to sustain itself for years to come, so we wouldn’t have to go through this process every year,” Greenfield said.
Other locations now on the College’s list of countries approved for sponsored travel include Nigeria, Liberia, Philippines, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the West Bank and Gaza.
—Staff writer Tina Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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