Restricting Faculty Travel Is a Bad Idea

My university (Texas, not Maastricht) has issued a dictum severely limiting faculty seeking authorization to travel to “dangerous countries” (including Israel and Mexico). This represents a clear inward shift in the production possibility frontier. I doubt it will have a big effect, though, because of the incentives it creates.

First, many others and I will certainly ignore the regulation if a good trip to Mexico, Israel or elsewhere arises and our expenses are paid by non-University sources. Also, existing faculty members who might obtain grants requiring travel to these areas will be more likely to run their grant money through other organizations-thus reducing the amount of overhead funding the University can obtain to help cover the costs of the very administrators who have propagated this policy. Worse still from the University’s point of view, by making research more difficult this regulation will, if fully effective, reduce the attractiveness of the University to potential faculty. In my 42 years as a University professor, I have seen many administrative stupidities; but this one is a strong contender for the dumbest.

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  1. Eileen M. Wyatt says:

    The University of Florida recently had a brouhaha over whether grad students who had gone to Haiti on their own could use post-earthquake footage in a university-related project when the university had banned travel to Haiti:
    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/31/haiti

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  2. brent says:

    I do not know about your Universities policies, but at the company where I work, travel to dangerous countries is tightly monitored.

    The company has to buy separate insurance for every employee who travels to a set of countries deemed “dangerous”, and that insurance is expensive.

    Also the company is committed to getting employees out of those countries when serious problems arise,so they need to know where you are at all times.

    Could it be an insurance issue as much as an employee safety issue? Companies like International SOS provide security information for business travelers. Perhaps there are travel risks for parts of Israel and Mexico.

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  3. Miguel says:

    There is also the social cost of knowing that an employee from company ABC was injured in Haiti, or was caught in the middle of a shooting in Mexico. The question would be: why isnt the company taking action to protect their employees? What they do in their personal life, it is up to them.

    I dont blame them…

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  4. Owinok says:

    It illustrates that administrators run universities without seeking the dispassionate views of those hired to create and disperse knowledge.

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  5. George Goodall says:

    Years ago I was working for a smallish software vendor with large aspirations. A marketing opportunity arose for a speaking tour in Columbia with a very large IT vendor. My managers just told me to get on a plane. My colleague from the large vendor had to go through a week of training on how to protect himself in dangerous countries. To avoid being a target he didn’t bring a business suit… and couldn’t actually get into any of the formal speaking venues.

    I don’t think either of our companies adequately prepared us for the trip but for very different reasons. Regardless, travel to dangerous countries was certainly accepted in the corporate culture of both vendors and it occasionally led to valuable contracts (when we brought suits). Completely prohibiting such travel seems short sighted.

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  6. David L says:

    If you’re going to implement a policy of restricting travel to dangerous countires, start wth restricting travel to dangerous countires. Israel is an extraordinarily safe country. It has the 4th lowest murder rate in the world (tied with Switzerland), after Slovenia, Austria, and Sweden. At 2.3 murders per 100,000 people per annum, that is four times lower than the U.S. murder rate.

    At best, this sounds like ignorant implementation of a flawed policy–at worst, a politically-motivated initiative.

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  7. Bill McGonigle says:

    The policy seems silly on its face. But discussion can only be speculative if we don’t know why the policy is in place. Is this information unavailable? There must be a fundamental misunderstanding or a broken policy at the root of this – chasing away prospective faculty can’t be the design.

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  8. Chip Overclock says:

    The U.S. State Department periodically issues travel bulletins as to what countries are deemed save or unsafe. I think of it as a service, since they’re basically telling you that if you get in to trouble there you may not be able to rely on U.S. assets to assist you. Two companies for which I’ve worked distributed these bulletins to their employees and further restricted their own business travel to those countries for good business reasons (as other folks here have pointed out). Whether you pay attention to these bulletins for your own personal travel depends of course on your own circumstances and your own risk tolerance.

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