Colleges cancel international programs to Middle East, Europe, West Africa

Administrators respond to international conflict and health crises

Concern for student safety is driving colleges and universities to cancel study abroad programs in Ukraine, Israel, and West Africa—regions that are grappling with outbreaks of violence or disease.

Cancellations extend beyond areas affected by Ebola

New York University (NYU) is among the schools suspending its study abroad programs in West Africa, including Ghana, in reaction to the region’s deadly Ebola outbreak. (As of September 10, the CDC hadn't reported cases of Ebola in Ghana, but NYU proactively decided to suspend programs in the country. )

John Beckman, an NYU spokesperson, said that administrators understood that students had "very low" risk of contracting Ebola in Ghana, but were "not confident that we could have provided the kind of experience students have come to expect."

So far, the Ebola outbreak has killed at least 1,848 people and spread to five countries in the region.

In recent months, concerns over security in Israel and eastern Ukraine also have spurred schools to suspend their study abroad programs in those areas. For instance, NYU cancelled classes in Tel Aviv out of concern for student safety.

Are schools being too cautious?

University risk committees analyze a range of data when evaluating the safety of students abroad. For example, Drake University’s risk committee is examining State Department travel warnings, threat ratings from their insurance provider, and reports from program administrators on the ground before making a decision on whether to suspend its study abroad programs in Ghana.

Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, criticizes the process that many schools use to evaluate the safety of study abroad programs, particularly those in Israel, as being too risk-averse. "People go running for cover because risk managers are saying 'don't do it,' but in running an academic institution… there has to be a point where principle trumps interest," he says.

Michael Chertoff, a former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and current risk management consultant, emphasizes that, ultimately, risk is unavoidable. "The challenge is if you want no risk you'd never leave the country," he says. "And even here, frankly, you can't abolish risk on campus (Vilensky, Wall Street Journal, 8/29 [subscription required]; Kelley, Radio Iowa, 9/4; CDC website, accessed 9/10).

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