Student group travel freeze continues

Student groups are still prohibited from traveling internationally after the Student Activities and Leadership Programs reviewed its travel policies last summer with Portland State’s legal counsel.

Student groups are still prohibited from traveling internationally after the Student Activities and Leadership Programs reviewed its travel policies last summer with Portland State’s legal counsel. international travel will remain frozen until new policies are devised and the Student Fee Committee determines the legitimacy of student-fee-funded travel.

Domanic Thomas, assistant director of SALP, explained that after speaking with legal counsel, they understood the possible ramifications if problems did occur with students traveling internationally.

“In the past, staff exposed themselves and the department to being sued if students were hurt [internationally],” Thomas said.

He said that for several years, international travel paid for by the SFC created a large exposure of risk for the staff. He said the staff did its best to minimize the risk, but it is not something to which they want to continue to be exposed.

“If you perform duties outside of your job description and level of expertise, the university easily says you’re on your own,” Thomas adds.

He understands that there is also “danger traveling to [local cities such as] Salem, but best practices provides an assumed level of risk to be minimal.”

Canada is currently a gray area, and they are reviewing whether limited international travel may be allowed in the future.

A student group affected by the travel freeze is Engineers Without Borders. Due to these complications, Engineers Without Borders at PSU is no longer funded by SFC.

“After four months of discussions with them, we concluded that SFC [and] SALP [were] completely set against continuing our funding due to arbitrary changes in policy, so we moved on,” said EWB President Chad Norvell.

he does not know if any progress is being made on formulating new international travel policies for student groups.

“Even if the SFC had continued our funding, we would be unable to continue work on our international projects. We were given no realistic choice but to discontinue our SFC status,” Norvell said.

Thomas said that the SFC is heavily scrutinizing how money will be allocated for the 2010–11 academic year. The group is asking difficult questions such as, “[Is PSU] duplicating resources that already exist?” and “Is it a good use of funds to duplicate a resource for less than 20 students?”

He explained that if the SFC allocates money to students traveling internationally, PSU might be duplicating services already available on campus by other departments that are not funded by student fees.

Thomas stresses that the student fee money is meant to pay for student-led programs, and he is concerned about building a “truly student-led allocation of resources.”

SALP is still determining what the future holds for student-fee-funded international travel.

Thomas said that if it were to continue, “training, upping skill sets and possibly reclassifying [staff] positions,” would be required.

SFC Chair Johnnie Ozimkowski explained that they are prioritizing different parts of the student fee budget.

He added, “I don’t think that when every other department on campus is making tough choices on tight budgets, it’s fair to send students and departmental staff wherever they want.”

Thomas said, “There will still be funds for individual groups to travel, but not to the tune of $8,000 to $10,000, as some groups have asked.”

“Instead of large travels budgets in groups [and] departments, that have been in the past used for a few students, they now want to open that opportunity up to 28,000 students and have criteria developed for that travel…travel is one of a hundred line items the SFC reviews,” he said.

Thomas does not want students to be unprepared or hurt while traveling internationally, because SALP is not properly trained to provide the necessary information for students. Thomas admits that he cannot aid students in obtaining proper visas or international protocol, because he does not have certification or training facilitating in international travel.

Thomas would like to develop partnerships with other departments that do know how to aid students who wish to travel internationally, such as Education Abroad or IE3 Global Internships.

Ozimkowski said he was surprised by the student groups’ response to the initial travel reductions. He was confused that some students fight for lower tuition rates but demand more group funding that would  raise the overall the student fee.

“We want to work with student groups to create a smart budget and provide them everything they want within reason,” Ozimkowski added. “We want to keep the student fee low.”