Who Are The Faculty Developing and Leading Study Abroad Programs?
Are There Minimum Standards for Who Runs a Study Abroad Program?
Associate Dean, International Education & Senior International Officer,
College of Extended & International Education
Director, Center for Global Education
California State University at Dominguez Hills
As in all areas of study abroad, the consistent factor is that no two programs, countries, or cities are alike. In the same way, no two faculty or staff members are alike. What are the minimum standards for a study abroad faculty member taking students abroad?
This is an easier question to answer when looking at course credit. Whether residing in the U.S. and traveling with students abroad or working with university faculty who live and work in the countries and cities where programs take place, there are minimum academic standards for students to obtain degree credit for the courses they take abroad. After students leave the classroom, things get more complicated when looking at faculty expertise.
As discussed in previous newsletters, implementing a study abroad program involves all aspects of university administrative and student affairs support in countries and cities all over the world.
On the health and safety side, this includes dealing with issues as diverse as:
- Transportation Safety
- Fire Safety
- Sexual Harassment and Assault
- Water Safety
- Crisis and Risk Management
- Mental Health Support
- Supporting Students with Special Needs and Disabilities
- Alcohol and Drug Use and Abuse
- Responding to Discrimination Abroad
- Environmental Disaster Response
- Political Instability Response
- Medical Health Response
- Crime and Violence
- Conflict Between Students
- Emergency Communication
- Tropical Diseases
- Legal Issues Abroad
- Responding to U.S. State Department Guidance
- Responding to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance
The reality is that on a home campus, there are offices and staff whose roles involve responding to each of the issues above. However, on many study abroad programs, faculty will have no permanent on-site staff to assist in responding to these types of issues.
Some universities support training of their faculty in first aid and personal safety. However, many have no consistent training programs to provide a clear understanding of how to evaluate potential risks, how to avoid risks, and how to respond to minor and major crises abroad.
In the past, I have been made aware of times when faculty leaders are part of the problem, rather than the solution for the issues listed above, including times when institutions were sued based on the following:
- A faculty member harassed or assaulted a student
- A faculty member was driving a van involved in an accident, resulting in the death and injury of students
- A faculty member designed a transportation route clearly noted as unsafe by the U.S. Department of State
- A faculty member provided alcohol and/or drugs to students
The field only collects a limited amount of data on safety incidents abroad and most cases are settled out of court, so there is no current data on all the health and safety incidents facing study abroad students. The study abroad field has developed the Interorganizational Good Practices for Safety and Study Abroad. The Forum on Education Abroad has standards that include health and safety issues. However, it falls to every individual college and university to effectively implement health and safety policies and procedures.
As discussed in previous articles, it is important that there is collaboration between the study abroad office and administrative professionals across college and university campuses to provide guidance to faculty on limiting risks, responding to known risks, and being prepared to respond to crises and emergencies abroad.
The SAFETI Clearinghouse of the Center for Global Education at UCLA has provided background information, sample forms, and resources to help institutions develop guidance for faculty directors. We have also worked with Terra Dotta to provide helpful content through the Terra Dotta Community Library.
In the same way that we suggest that institutions provide information to students about health and safety issues abroad and document that students have read them, through a resource like Terra Dotta software, we think it is just as important that institutions are able to show that they have provided information and training to faculty led programs. These resources should teach them how to respond, who to work with on the home campus and abroad, and how to deal with the many potential health and safety issues they may find abroad.
Expecting that faculty have expertise in their academic area is reasonable and prudent. Expecting that faculty have expertise in areas of health and safety without training is asking for trouble in a time where complex health and safety challenges of many types exist on our home campuses as well as any city or country where students may study.
It is critical that institutions develop training programs for faculty who play any leadership role in study abroad programs. If your institution cannot show the training provided to faculty in all the areas suggested in this newsletter (not expertise, but training on how to evaluate potential risk, limit risk and respond to crises and emergencies abroad), the potential for harm to faculty, staff, and students grows and the potential for institutional liability grows as well. Part of this training should include clear guidance and clarification that faculty are not expected to be experts in all health and safety issues. However, they should receive training on the experts, on campus and abroad, who will help them effectively implement program safety guidelines. Some of the content that can support faculty training is available in the Terra Dotta Community Library as well as in Center for Global Education at UCLA resources.
Providing professional development in health and safety support for faculty will enable them to be safer for themselves, for their institution, and to more effectively support students who study abroad.