Back in December madradprof read with some consternation the November 23 minutes of the Committee on Faculty Affairs. One of the guests was Dean McQuaid of the Office of International Programs (OIP). Effective January 1, 2001, OIP was renamed the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance (GPS Alliance). The plan the Dean proposed sounded too ridiculous and I figured it would go nowhere. But a grad student in CLA was recently denied permission to do research in Nigeria because these folks decided it was too dangerous. For some years OIP has limited travel destinations for undergraduate study abroad, but it has not restricted graduate student travel. And they have plans for monitoring faculty as well. So it's time to shed a bit of light on what's going on with the transformation of OIP because something must be done to STOP them!
The concern about "risks and liabilities" when faculty travel abroad is driving the conversation. To avoid risk, faculty (and grad students) must be tracked. Right now faculty apparently go dashing off to all sorts of dangerous places and nobody knows about it. They must be protected by university bureaucrats! Texas A&M is held up as a model--there they deny reimbursement to faculty who do not report their international travel ahead of time. According to the Dean, the policy being developed will require reporting overseas travel but not require faculty to obtain permission. Sanctions for not complying are still under discussion. Apparently grad students are being required to obtain permission, as evidenced by the experience of the CLA student.
What is missing in the Dean's narrative is any evidence whatsoever that faculty have needed rescuing by the U. In other words, there is not really a problem, but there might be one, so the U should erect a vast monitoring (the Dean says it's not monitoring but methinks she doth protest too much) system and require yet more reporting from faculty--on top of the already onerous reporting and permission seeking that we already do. (How many hours did you spend on IRB applications last year?) It will be costly to monitor faculty travel and the benefits of doing so are minimal, so this seems like a ridiculous plan at a time when the U is facing huge budget cuts.
Even if we had loads of money, the plan is paternalistic and just plain dumb. The bureaucrats themselves admit that the liability issues associated with international travel are the same as for domestic travel. Even if we do report our travel, how will they know something bad has happened to us--will we be required to check in every day? Maybe they should just microchip us (GPS-Alliance could GPS us!) so that they know where we are all the time. Perhaps faculty could also be mounted with distress buttons so that we could call out for help. What are they gonna' do if we do get in trouble...send in a private military corporation to save us from the dangerous natives? No, they'd probably just do what our families and friends would do, which is call the State Department.
But the most important issue is that of academic freedom. Will grad students (and perhaps faculty) be barred from doing research in large swathes of the world?
EXCERPT from the 11/23/2010 minutes of the Faculty Affairs Committee