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.


Eileen M. Wyatt

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

brent

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.

Miguel

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...

Owinok

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

George Goodall

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.

David L

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.

Bill McGonigle

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.

Chip Overclock

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.

Caitlin

Although I think that it sounds like a dumb regulation because people enjoy traveling and having that regulation certainly makes it unattractive to potential employees, I can see how it may pose an insurance problem for the University. Should something happen to the traveling employee, the University could be held at least partially responsible because they should be protecting their employees.
I agree with Bill, this policy seems silly, but there must be some other fundamental issue at the bottom of this. The goal cannot be to simply restrict faculty travel simply for the enjoyment of irritating people, there has to be some kind of underlying reason.

relatively unemployed college prof.

So faculty cannot pay for themselves? I guess it is a matter of perks and not knowing how fortunate one is i.e., having it too good- for as I see it- just having the opportunity to work full-time at a good-great school as a college prof. (advising students etc.) is a perk in its own right.

malthus

On second thought, bring him right down here to Rio, where I can deal with his hallucinations personally.

greg

"I doubt it will have a big effect, though, because ..."

If the trip is paid for by non university sources- you are traveling as a private citizen and would have done so anyway.

Research will be more difficult- Most collaboration these days is managed by email, and if you 'really' need a local sample I suspect you could email your local collaborator to obtain what you need.

this will all be about protecting the university

Legal management

How would an economics professor balance the faculty need / desire to travel to "dangerous" places and the university-wide legal need to protect its employees / protect itself from (potentially costly) liability? Can you suggest a way to have both more individual travel and less organizational exposure?

Andrew

Is Israel on the "dangerous" list from the State Department or is just an anti-Semitic gesture?

Panem et Circanses

Are you aware that many businesses, including large corporations, began restricting travel in the 1990s? It's taken a remarkable amount of time for it to reach you...

Christopher Strom

With regard to #2, 7, 9, and 13:

It sounds as though this may be less an issue of an idiotic or silly administrative policy, than a communication and transparency problem.

@Andrew: Don't limit your thinking to only those two possibilities. Why couldn't it be both?

Natasha Williams

Israel travel advisory

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about threats to themselves and to U.S. interests in those locations. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain mindful of security factors when planning travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. This warning replaces the Travel Warning issued January 15, 2009, to update information on the general security environment in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Mexico

Jacob

Natasha,

your posting is abridged (showing only 1 of ~20 paragraphs), and presented without context.

The full travel warning can be found here:
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_922.html

A more accurate summary of this warning is that the state department warning for Israel is almost entirely focused on the west bank and Gaza strip (where Americans cant go anyway).

As a point of context consider the structure and content of travel warnings to more dangerous countries. (Iraq, Sudan, etc.)

the Mexico warning:
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html
has a mild amount of specific cautionary details, but covers areas where Americans often visit.

C.B.

A university and a corporate organization are entirely different enterprises. It is precisely our job as researchers to make sense of the world. Those of you in the business community can simply replace one market with another. Those of us in the business of research cannot do the same with our areas of study.

clb

"So faculty cannot pay for themselves?"

Why should faculty have to cover work costs from their own pockets?