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Limited exceptions granted to international travel policy

Despite the University’s policy of prohibiting Stanford funded, organized or sponsored trips for undergraduates to countries on the State Department’s travel warning list, trips to Israel and Mexico have been granted exceptions in the past two years.

Last summer, several Stanford students traveled to Israel on a program organized by Hillel at Stanford. Because Hillel does not receive funds from Stanford, it is not subject to the University's International Travel Policy. (Courtesy of Maddy Bayer)

Last summer, several Stanford students traveled to Israel on a program organized by Hillel at Stanford. Because Hillel does not receive funds from Stanford, it is not subject to the University’s International Travel Policy. (Courtesy of Maddy Bayer)

According to Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs, the two exceptions have been made for faculty-organized trips that provide an educational benefit in a carefully planned program and are reviewed in advance to minimize risk.

Steven Weitzman, a Religious Studies professor, led an overseas seminar to Israel last summer through the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP). According to the State Department travel warning, US citizens are warned against traveling to areas in Israel.

“We were able to travel to Israel and have this seminar by agreeing to stay out of certain areas, like the West Bank or Gaza Strip,” Weitzman said.

In order to make it possible to take students to Israel, Weitzman had to fill out a petition to the provost in order to travel to that country.

“Two years ago, the [Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford] committee made some recommendations to encourage the University to encourage more travel for the students, thus making the policy more flexible,” he said. “We weren’t going around a ban, necessarily, but we had to understand the risks and try to minimize them while in Israel [by staying out of certain places].”

Kalfayan said this trip was approved because of the educational benefit and need for that type of program, as well as the capability of BOSP and the participants to take on the added responsibilities required to manage the risk. The trip to Israel was subsidized by BOSP.

There are other trips to Israel that are not required to adhere to the program, according to Rabbi Serena Eisenberg.

“Hillel at Stanford is a separate organization, and therefore not subject to these restrictions [from Stanford], since we do not receive Stanford funding for our programs,” she said. “Over the past several years, Hillel has sponsored Israel travel opportunities for Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus.”

Eisenberg added that the Graduate School of Business organizes an Israel trip with about 40 business students each spring, but graduate students are not required to adhere to the policy. She also noted that the wording in the State Department travel advisory changed with respect to Israel in June 2013, encouraging visitors to major metropolitan areas.

Mexico is another country listed on the State Department’s warning list; Oaxaca, however, is not located in one of the warning areas.

“The State Department travel warning to Mexico is not national, but regional, and the state of Oaxaca itself has no travel restrictions,” Gabriel Garcia, professor of medicine and faculty leader of the Oaxaca program, wrote in an email to The Daily.

“[We] petitioned the provost’s office to start our…program and after appropriate investigation and discussion with them and the University’s international office, our overseas program was approved, with significant restrictions that aim to enhance the safety and well-being of our students,” he added.

These restrictions include flying directly from the United States to Oaxaca, having course faculty and Child Family Health International colleagues onsite at all times during the program and limiting in-country travel to the capital and nearby communities.

Many peer institutions have addressed similar issues with respect to student travel to Israel and other countries on the travel advisory list, Eisenberg said.

“In some cases, the University requires an additional student waiver, in recognition of potential risk and liability,” she said. “Some have partnerships with Israeli institutions and some administer faculty-led programs.”

“What all these programs have in common is that they allow some kind of overseas studies in Israel, provide advising and the planning of an academic program and allow students to use University financial aid and other resources,” she added.

Eisenberg said that Harvard University runs a faculty-led summer school program in Israel and in 2009, the UC system restored overseas studies in Israel, including a program at the Hebrew University. In 2011, the Cal State system restored overseas studies in Israel.

“A lot of our peer institutions have those programs put in place,” Weitzman said. “It was time for us to do the same.”

Contact Josee Smith at jsmith11 ‘at’ stanford.edu.