In wake of Ebola, universities balance humanitarian need with risk management

Experts note that without higher education's involvement the outbreak will be difficult to control

Colleges are limiting travel to countries with active Ebola outbreaks, but are also trying to balance the need to control risk with their research and humanitarian missions, The New York Times reports.

After the CDC last week cautioned against unnecessary travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—the epicenter of Africa's Ebola outbreak—many universities announced restrictions on sponsored travel to the affected regions. 


While the State University of New York system has banned all travel to the region, others—such as Columbia University—have taken a more flexible stance. John Coatsworth, provost at Columbia, says his university's mission and resources compel him and his colleagues to contribute to relief efforts. However, administrators only approve travel when it has a clear humanitarian purpose and proper precautions are taken.


New York University, Harvard University, and Cornell University have issued similar policies that ban most travel, but leave exemptions for humanitarian work. Some administrators told the New York Times that faculty would be free to travel under the auspices of other organizations—such as the United Nations—without approval, but they may impose additional restrictions if the outbreak worsens.

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

Johns Hopkins University, which has a large school of public health, has imposed no travel restrictions. The school has requested only that faculty and students notify the administration of travel plans and take proper precautions upon their return. Hopkins administrators report that about 15 people have traveled to West Africa this year for work related to the outbreak.


William Brieger, a professor of public health at Hopkins who is currently working in Liberia, argues that the outbreak will be difficult to control without the aid of experts from universities (Pérez-Peña, New York Times, 10/21).

See our research brief

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