Faculty members seek explanations for study abroad cuts

About 30 faculty members gathered Friday afternoon to learn more about the recent reduction in J-Term study abroad courses for 2011 and express their concerns.

“There are a lot of issues to discuss,” business professor Dawn Swink said. “I’m concerned because it seems like we are cutting out international study abroad opportunities.”

Joseph Kreitzer and Angeline Barretta-Herman, associate vice presidents for academic affairs, discussed the factors that led to the administrative decision to allow fewer J-Term study abroad courses this coming year.

Financial factors

“Every course that leaves the campus takes money with them,” Barretta-Herman said. “It also costs the departments money. So those are some of the financial considerations we’re dealing with.”

Barretta-Herman said the university only receives $800 toward its operating budget out of the total tuition a student pays for a study abroad course. However, if a student takes a course on campus, $2,200 of the tuition goes directly back to the operating budget, a difference of $1,400.

Kreitzer said if the university had not allowed anyone to take courses abroad, it could have collected $679,000 more in funds for this past J-Term. He said the university spent a total of $1.13 million to subsidize J-Term study abroad in 2010.

But some faculty members pointed out the university does make money on study abroad in a more indirect way, because a study abroad program with a good reputation draws more students to St. Thomas and brings in money through those students’ tuition.

Philosophy professor Stephen Laumakis, whose study abroad course “Ethics: East and West” in Hawaii was rejected for J-Term 2011, said the cost effectiveness of a course should be one of the factors when deciding between courses. He said if the university is worried about losing money, it should pick courses that don’t cost as much and require less staff to plan them.

But other faculty members expressed their concern that putting increased emphasis on how much money each course costs the university might eliminate valuable study abroad opportunities for students.

Staffing problems

Another reason Kreitzer and Barretta-Herman gave for the reduction in 2011 J-Term study abroad courses was the lack of staffing at the International Education Center. Barretta-Herman said there have been requests for additional IEC staff, but with the current budget situation additional staffing is “highly unlikely.”

Some faculty members said they did not understand why they could not do many of the preparations for their courses themselves, instead of having to go through the overworked IEC staff. They said doing some of the work themselves might allow more J-Term courses to go abroad.

But Barretta-Herman said faculty must complete study abroad preparations through the IEC due to liability issues. She acknowledged the IEC is already very busy, and said there is a possibility that sometime in the future St. Thomas might add an office of risk management to take care of the liability concerns the IEC currently handles.

“We’re in the midst of doing a program review of the IEC,” Barretta-Herman said. “We’re going to take a long, hard look at what those activities are and if they still make sense in today’s world and if in fact there are some things they are doing that are better done somewhere else.”

Faculty reactions

Many faculty members were glad to have the chance to ask questions about the changes in study abroad programming, but many said issues remained to be discussed.

“Clearly more discussion is needed in regard to the monetary side of things,” Laumakis said.

Swink recently led a J-Term study abroad course on e-commerce in Australia, and she is concerned about the effects the cuts will have on students.

“The course in Australia was a phenomenal experience for the students,” Swink said. “So many students want to study abroad and the numbers keep going up. We need to make sure we don’t lose these important learning experiences.”

Katie Broadwell can be reached at klbroadwell@stthomas.edu.