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29 Nov Posted by in Business, Guidelines | Comments Off on Sign In — Please?
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An interesting little discussion has arisen recently over possible new requirements for faculty traveling abroad. Not resolved yet, the discussion expresses ongoing concerns about risk, on the part of various well-intentioned folks talking about campus safety and human resources goals. It also, however, seems to me to illustrate a clear opportunity to resist good intentions in the interest of avoiding another set of provocative requirements, likely to be widely ignored and also sure to stimulate another round of the academic equivalent of Tea Party protest.

I do want to emphasize that, while I have my own views on this, I respect the concerns of the regulators. We might encounter situations in the future that would make us wish we’d imposed some new rules. And I’m not talking, below, about faculty taking student groups abroad, where careful registration is essential.

Here’s the situation. Currently, we don’t require faculty going abroad individually on university business or research projects, to tell anybody where they’re heading or why. Hopefully (we do have issues even here, once in a while) they know that shouldn’t abandon a class without clear arrangements for substitution, but other than that they’re scot free.

Some of the safety folk find this dangerously irresponsible. What if an international crisis arose – how could we notify them of State Department warnings? How would we even know if they became damaged or destroyed? The answer is, currently, we couldn’t and we wouldn’t. And I admit this could cause some institutional problems or even needless individual exposure. Hence the clear recent impulse to require faculty to register for any professional trip as part of their travel authorization procedure.

Against this, I would argue that we have an interest as well in avoiding intrusions into faculty space wherever possible. It’s unlikely in any event that many faculty would actually observe any new requirements – already they don’t do the travel vouchers as they’re supposed to. And more generally the notion that the University should assume new responsibilities for individual risk strikes me as debatable – there’s only so much security possible, and being abroad isn’t as dangerous as some people think.

So in this instance I have urged restraint. Voluntary opportunities to record destinations are fine, requirements merely provocative and probably useless. But the discussion is interesting, as one of several areas in which the impulse to regularize seems to run strong. My guess is that, in this case, the benefits aren’t great enough to prevail against more libertarian impulses. But there are other instances that are not so easy to call, and even here the quest for on-paper security may override.