UI examines study abroad destinations

By Dan Petrella

University students might be able to study abroad in some countries on the U.S. Department of State’s travel-warning list by this summer.

Current University policy prohibits undergraduates from studying abroad in any country for which there is a travel warning. Graduate studies in these areas are currently addressed on a case-by-case basis.

The policy change calls for the case-by-case assessment of all requests to study abroad in countries under travel warning.

“The new policy articulates a protocol for examining student proposals for study abroad in travel-warning areas,” said Jeremy Geller, director of student international academic affairs at the University.

Proposals will be evaluated based on health and safety factors and academic need, Geller said.

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“There will be an assessment by faculty (members) that the student isn’t at risk, that the student suggests a level of maturity on one hand and academic commitment on the other,” he said.

The decision of whether or not to allow a study abroad program will rest primarily with the University’s Study Abroad Office.

Geller said his decisions are advisory to a larger committee, which includes the dean of students and other administrators, representatives of University counsel, University and campus risk management officials, the News Bureau, University health services and representatives of other college-based study abroad units.

He added that he has access to the expertise of faculty, government and international contacts in assessing these situations.

Of the 25 countries under travel warning, Israel appears to be the most popular study abroad destination.

Eli Wald, junior in LAS and former president of the Illinois Israel Public Affairs Committee, was a leader in the push to get the University to change its policy.

Wald said he and other students from the Illinois Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as IlliniPAC, had meetings with University administrators, tried to raise student awareness and collected about 800 signatures on a petition asking the University to change its policy.

“One of the important factors was working with (the Illinois Student Senate),” Wald said.

In October, the Illinois Student Senate passed a resolution urging the University to once again allow students to study abroad in Israel, which has been under travel warning since 2002. Students spoke both in favor of the resolution and against it at the ISS meeting where it passed.

Student Senator Joseph Danavi, senior in LAS, was a main opponent of the resolution and disagrees with the University’s decision to change its policy. He said that it seems irresponsible of a public university to overstep its own existing boundaries and those established by the State Department to benefit a few students.

“Here, what we want to do is offer as much opportunity to students as we can, and we want to do it in as responsible a way as we can,” Geller said. “Illinois is very well placed to make informed judgments about the state of things in the world because there’s a great deal of expertise at our disposal.”

Geller said the resolution did not cause the University to change its policy, and he was not contacted about it.

“What brings this issue to the table now is lobbying by the pro-Israel lobby, the pro-Israel student lobby, as well as Israeli consular lobbying of the University,” Geller said.

Wald said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the term “lobbying” to describe IlliniPAC’s efforts, but he is glad they made a difference.

“The study abroad office and ISS may have gotten around to it eventually, but we wanted to expedite the process,” he said. “It will allow students academic freedom. I think this proves that knowledge and education don’t exist in a bubble, it’s an international process.”