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Liability
1/22/2016 12:00 AM

Significant numbers of study-abroad students engage in dangerous and potentially illegal behaviors while they’re far away from the safety net of home, according to a new national survey by On Call International, a travel risk management company.

These behaviors include consuming more alcohol than usual, trying controlled substances for the first time, engaging in romantic encounters with strangers, and accepting rides from strangers who aren’t professional drivers.

Safety issues can be compounded during study-abroad trips, when unfamiliar surroundings, language barriers and cultural differences are thrown into the mix.

But student affairs administrators can mitigate the risks and liabilities, helping to ensure a safer study-abroad experience, according to Jim Hutton, chief security officer at On Call.

Significant numbers of study-abroad students engage in dangerous and potentially illegal behaviors while they’re far away from the safety net of home, according to a new national survey by On Call International, a travel risk management company.

These behaviors include consuming more alcohol than usual, trying controlled substances for the first time, engaging in romantic encounters with strangers, and accepting rides from strangers who aren’t professional drivers.

Safety issues can be compounded during study-abroad trips, when unfamiliar surroundings, language barriers and cultural differences are thrown into the mix.

But student affairs administrators can mitigate the risks and liabilities, helping to ensure a safer study-abroad experience, according to Jim Hutton, chief security officer at On Call.

In fact, colleges have a legal obligation to avoid foreseeable risk for study-abroad programs, including a duty to understand the current operating environment, educate and train participants, and have solid communication plans, he said.

Failure to implement a proactive approach to study-abroad safety could endanger your students, lead to lawsuits and bad press, and damage your school’s brand and reputation in the eyes of your stakeholders, Hutton said.

It can be difficult to hold students’ attention during advance preparation and education, which can also be time-consuming and expensive, Hutton said. But that investment can help you avoid a crisis, which would become even more complex and time-consuming, he said.

And, if a crisis does occur, evidence of your pre-emptive, proactive work will lessen your liability, he said. “If you can demonstrate due diligence, you’re going to be in a better position to address any concerns,” he said.

Hutton highlighted 10 key steps you can take to improve study-abroad safety:

  1. Educate students about the host country’s culture. Provide students and their parents with study-abroad orientation through online or in-person training. Review language, food, alcohol/drug laws/expectations, appropriate versus inappropriate gestures, and issues of race, sex and gender, including public displays of affection. Female students may need to understand the ramifications if they don’t conform to the clothing expectations in conservative countries. Sensitize students to cultural and political differences. “Nationalism can certainly creep in. Lack of experience can creep in. There can be intentional or accidental cultural rubs,” Hutton warned. That’s why you need to prepare students for how to prevent and respond to cultural misunderstandings, as well as assaults and sexual abuse. Educate students about the gender roles in the host country. For example, female students might find themselves on the receiving end of unwanted attention in other countries where residents or authorities might look the other way or even treat such behavior as acceptable. Arm students with strategies to de-escalate such situations, whether by making a quick phone call to a predesignated emergency contact or leaving the area. Also consider prearranging a partnership with a local host — an individual (perhaps a bilingual student) who lives in that country who speaks that language, understands that culture, and can help de-escalate problem situations. “Local knowledge is best,” Hutton said. You can find local hosts through destination management companies or transportation/insurance companies. Or, at a bare minimum, bring along someone from the United States who understands that country’s culture and language.
  2. Plan for students’ health needs. Ensure students receive any necessary inoculations and that they will have proper food available. Ensure they’re carrying legal, original prescriptions in case they need to show them to authorities. For students with chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, ensure they have medical clearance, necessary medications, and paper or electronic medical records. Plan where students will go if they need a specialist or a hospital with a burn unit or trauma center. Have a plan for medical evacuations.
  3. Ensure study-abroad staff have crisis management/response training. “Sometimes it’s hard to make it better, but you can certainly make it worse if you make poor decisions,” Hutton said. Know if your host country is prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, or air quality problems, and have crisis management plans in place for each situation, he said. In advance, find out the answers to these questions: “Does the management of the traveling partner have some background in crisis management and do they have a clear communication system? Does everyone know how to get help when they need it?” Also have a plan for how you’ll respond if a student is harmed, including steps to communicate with, protect and provide emotional support to the other students, giving them the option to stay or return home.
  4. Provide communication plans. Ensure students and staff know how to reach each other and where to report accidents, injuries, crimes, concerns, etc. Identify one main contact person for emergencies. Establish a communication tree and a system for sending blast texts/emails to everyone. Encourage students to watch out for one another, recognize signs/symptoms of depression/anxiety/behavioral shifts, and how to take appropriate action. Ask each study-abroad group to send a weekly group Facebook message and schedule a weekly group dinner. Also encourage students to share their study-abroad photos and comments through a staff-monitored blog or social-media account. Ask students and parents to plan regular check-ins with one another by phone or email. Tell parents who to call or email if they pick up any inkling of concern.
  5. Research crime for each study-abroad location. Crime rates are often underreported, categorizations can greatly differ, and there’s often a one-to-two-year lag in the data. But you can access the American Embassy’s crime and safety report as a starting point. Consider arranging for a security manager, agent or guards to provide an added layer of protection.
  6. Investigate study-abroad partners, and housing and transportation providers. Find out safety records and fire prevention/response plans, including fire exits, alarms, extinguishers and sprinklers. Try to keep your students together in housing that has a secure access control system. Ask about escorts to parking lots. Remember, other countries don’t have the same standards, requirements or laws. Access a third-party provider to make sure vehicles (including boats) and their drivers/operators are safe and sober.
  7. Look into the safety of excursions. “A lot of the accidents and injuries occur during free time,” Hutton said. Driving and swimming are the most common areas of injury for study-abroad students, especially when alcohol is involved, he said. “Equip them with information so they can make better choices,” he said. Overcome students’ sense of invincibility by sharing narratives of near-misses or crises that have happened in that area where they’re going. That will have more power than a list of dos and don’ts. Tell students which roads and beaches are dangerous, including rip currents and lifeguard availability. Find out and communicate the rules of the road and license/insurance requirements for drivers. Or, better yet, keep students out of the driver’s seat by arranging for students to use safe shuttles or public transportation, and/or hiring a transport coordinator. And address how students should handle travel into other countries beyond the study-abroad location’s borders.
  8. Address conduct expectations. Teach students how to be good guests, and what that means in that particular country. Encourage students to use positive peer pressure to reel in students who act inappropriately. Explain that failure to do so can negatively impact the whole group because they’re representing their school and their country. Prepare students for how they’re expected to handle access to recreational drugs and alcohol, which may be legal in the host country but not back home. Warn students that using drugs or alcohol, or any other misconduct, would violate your school conduct code, which travels with them. Depending on the area they’re traveling to, you might need to tack on additional requirements, such as curfews, or prohibit driving because the roads are too dangerous. Have students sign a contract confirming they consent to the requirements. The contract should also state that if students engage in misconduct, choose to live outside school-arranged housing, or opt out of a communication tree, the school is no longer responsible for them. Ensure students understand the potential ramifications and seriousness of criminal activity, which could lead to arrest and land them in the criminal justice system in a foreign country, where they won’t be protected by U.S. laws or American status. Warn them that an incident involving U.S. students could inadvertently trigger pre-existing distrust or animosity toward Americans.
  9. Have students register with the U.S. government before departure. Go to https://step.state.gov to register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
  10. Re-evaluate study-abroad procedures and partners frequently. Even if you’ve sent students to the same foreign country for years, don’t assume nothing has changed or needs to be changed. “Complement that muscle memory with situational awareness,” Hutton advised. Look into what might have changed since the last trip, including politics, crime rates, safety standards and laws. The safety records of your transportation partners can even change. Or, transportation coordinators might have changed shuttle providers, for example. Find out exactly why something costs less money, and if that new provider has the same safety precautions in place.

For more information, go to http://www.oncallinternational.com.

Liability
12/24/2015 12:00 AM

A record influx of international college students brings increased risks and liabilities to U.S. colleges and universities.

But student affairs professionals can mitigate those risks and liabilities and ensure a safer, more welcoming experience for international students, according to Jim Hutton, chief security officer at On Call International, a travel risk management company.

A record influx of international college students brings increased risks and liabilities to U.S. colleges and universities.

But student affairs professionals can mitigate those risks and liabilities and ensure a safer, more welcoming experience for international students, according to Jim Hutton, chief security officer at On Call International, a travel risk management company.

You can start by emailing introductory materials before they arrive on campus to establish a trusted channel of communication. Then, reinforce the message through orientation and ongoing programming. Present the messaging as a “What to expect and what’s different here versus where you came from,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is present it as a list of dos and don’ts,” he said.

Hutton highlighted four key challenges along with practical solutions you can implement:

  1. Challenge: Transportation. Adjustment and safety issues frequently arise for international students hailing from countries that have different speed limits, traffic volumes, and rules of the road. Insurance liability issues arise when international students drive or ride in vehicles with other students, especially student groups, clubs, organizations or teams. Public transit systems can also be intimidating.
    • Solutions:
      • Build informal partnerships with local, reputable car insurance firms who can provide drivers’ education programs or enhanced safety training for inexperienced drivers and auto insurance.
      • Offer education to help international students navigate public transit and learn the rules of the road.
      • Encourage students to take a paced approach when driving and using public transit.
      • Provide navigation systems, highway maps and other transportation information in their native language.
      • Refer students to reliable car/taxi services.
  2. Challenge: Medical. Emotional/mental health and reproductive/sexual health issues can carry more stigma for international students, who might also feel culturally intimidated. Health insurance can also become complicated. International students also have to learn where to go for routine versus emergency medical needs.
    • Solutions:
      • Ensure you and your staff members and international students know whether and what type of health insurance is required by the host country or institution.
      • Know what insurance plans can provide international students with coverage, such as institutional, governmental, the student’s family insurance, or providers like On Call.
      • Educate international students about determining when medical situations qualify as a routine request or an emergency and how and where to access appropriate types and levels of medical services.
      • Identify bilingual health staff and/or contract with translation services for crisis hotlines and health centers. Even if international students are fluent in English, translation will increase comfort in stressful situations.
  3. Challenge: Safety. Some international students hail from countries that have more permissive drug and alcohol norms and laws. Others might have to become accustomed to living in areas that have more crime than their home country. And they usually don’t know when and where it’s safe to go.
    • Solutions:
      • Promote personal safety, including how to secure possessions and the use of fire protection/sprinklers/alarms.
      • Encourage international students to use the buddy system when going out.
      • Explain U.S. laws and campus policies and penalties related to drug and alcohol use, including driving under the influence.
      • Advise international students how to find safe off-campus housing.
      • Offer self-defense and safety awareness classes at your institution or through partnerships with local agencies.
      • Familiarize students with blue light poles, security response apps and campus escorts.
      • Identify bilingual campus security staff and/or contract with translation services.
      • Provide emergency preparedness training (such as for earthquakes, hurricanes and floods).
      • Distribute wallet-sized cards and digital resources containing key information for finding help, such as 911 versus 411 and how to access highway patrol in your state.
  4. Challenge: Logistics. Landlords have been known to take advantage of international students in terms of pricing and maintenance. International students also probably won’t know how to turn on utilities, how to find jobs and internships, or where to go during holidays and breaks.
    • Solutions:
      • Connect international students with affinity groups that match their religious or ethnic preferences, as well as sports teams and clubs.
      • Offer host family arrangements with local residents willing to house international students during holidays and breaks.
      • Suggest that international students look into social media, crowdsourcing and blogs tailored to helping international students find tips for adapting to campus life, and help them see they’re not alone in their struggles.

For more information, go to http://www.oncallinternational.com.

Compliance
9/29/2015 12:00 AM

Almost every higher ed administrator is involved in federal government compliance efforts. Financial aid administrators must track and implement detailed Title IV regulations, and student life administrators must assess how specific Title IX guidance requirements are followed on their campuses. Security officials must stay attuned to the Clery Act and vagaries of the definitions of certain crimes and offenses. The list goes on and on.

Almost every higher ed administrator is involved in federal government compliance efforts. Financial aid administrators must track and implement detailed Title IV regulations, and student life administrators must assess how specific Title IX guidance requirements are followed on their campuses. Security officials must stay attuned to the Clery Act and vagaries of the definitions of certain crimes and offenses. The list goes on and on.

Indeed, the costs of compliance-related work range from 7 percent of one school’s noncompensation operating budget to 11 percent of overall expenditures at another school, according to “Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities: Report of the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education.”

With the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators created a task force of chief executive officers from a range of different types of institutions along with the American Council on Education. The senators charged the task force to review the state of federal regulatory requirements and provide recommendations for streamlining and consolidating regulations, as well as recommendations for eliminating overly burdensome and confusing regulations.

Report addresses challenges

To that end, the task force undertook a comprehensive review of the breadth of regulations and their costs to institutions. The task force report acknowledges the need for accountability with respect to expenditure of federal money but carries a theme that the expanded volume of formal regulations and related guidance undermines efforts to innovate on campus as well as efforts to address valid policies underlying the laws.

Among examples cited by the task force:

  • The Department of Education issued approximately 270 “Dear Colleague Letters” or other guidance documents to amend or clarify rules related to institutional compliance, resulting in a rate of more than one document per workday for the year of 2012.
  • The Clery Act and related guidance require more than 90 policy statements.
  • Higher ed positions that include the title of “compliance officer” have grown by 33 percent in the past 10 years.

The task force criticized the ED’s approach concerning regulation and enforcement. The ED can issue regulations interpreting statutes through negotiated rulemaking, in which it proposes rules, takes and evaluates comments concerning those proposed rules, and then issues final regulations. The task force found that the ED has increasingly moved to issuing informal guidance that has substantial policy implications — or even requirements — instead of relying on negotiated rulemaking.

In addition, the task force described how, when the ED has been challenged in court for overreaching through its informal guidance, the ED has continued to assert that its policy guidance must be followed — even after the courts rule against such guidance.

The task force was similarly critical of ED investigations and enforcement. Some compliance investigations have taken more than 10 years to complete, and fines for technical violations of unclear regulations or guidance are disproportionate to the errors.

The task force report also contrasted the short time that institutions often have to respond to inquiries from the ED as compared to the time that the ED has taken to provide information required by Congress. For example, six years ago Congress required that the ED develop a compliance calendar. But, six years later, the ED has yet to create that calendar.

The costs to institutions for compliance efforts, managing compliance reviews and enforcement take resources away from enhancing the institutions’ work and inhibit innovation, the task force concluded.

Report recommends guiding principles

The task force’s bipartisan congressional mandate as well as its comprehensive report resulted in a forceful statement that institutions of higher education can use when addressing concerns about the burdens of regulatory compliance.

While critical of the ED, the task force doesn’t take extreme positions. Instead, the task force recommended guiding principles for the ED’s development and enforcement of regulations, which include:

  • Ensuring that regulations are related to education, student safety, and stewardship of federal funds.
  • Using negotiated rulemaking and not regulatory guidance for substantive policies.
  • Ensuring that regulations are clear and comprehensible.

Further, the task force report includes a detailed matrix of regulations describing specific regulatory problems and recommending solutions.

The task force report provides substantive support for institutional efforts to educate congressional representatives and all of an institution’s constituencies that should understand how — in at least some, if not many, cases — regulation has clearly become overregulation. When this occurs, it creates disincentives to innovation as well as costs that inhibit educational efforts instead of ensuring the advancement of legitimate policy goals.

Student affairs professionals interested in advancing the conversation about the challenges associated with regulatory compliance should read the task force report and use its information and themes to support efforts to move toward a more effective regulatory environment for higher education.

Law & Campus: Adult Learner — Dismissal
8/14/2015 12:00 AM

A student charged with poor academic performance is merely entitled to an informal faculty evaluation.

Kadakia v. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, No. 13-2450 (D. N.J. 03/24/15)

Case name: Kadakia v. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, No. 13-2450 (D. N.J. 03/24/15).

Ruling: The U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey dismissed a former student’s suit against Rutgers University.

What it means: A student charged with poor academic performance is merely entitled to an informal faculty evaluation.

Summary: Sarin Kadakia was accepted into a combination undergraduate and medical school curriculum at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University in 2007.

In his second year, Kadakia failed two courses. He successfully remediated one of them but failed the other a second time. After a hearing, the school’s academic standing committee placed him on academic warning for the remainder of his time in medical school.

In his third year, Kadakia received grades of conditional pass in two clerkships because he failed the national exam in those subjects. Kadakia remediated those grades by retaking and passing the exams.

However, the physicians who observed Kadakia during a medicine clerkship expressed concern over his lack of clinical knowledge and his inability to apply that knowledge to patients. Accordingly, Kadakia received a failing grade, and his appeals were denied.

After a hearing at which Kadakia appeared with counsel, he was dismissed because of persistent academic difficulties.

Kadakia filed a suit claiming he had been denied due process. Rutgers filed a motion for summary judgment.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Kadakia had a constitutional right to continue his studies, the district judge held that he failed to prove the dismissal was beyond the pale of reasoned academic decision-making because there was ample evidence Rutgers properly dismissed him for poor academic performance.

The judge also ruled Kadakia had been afforded far greater procedural due process than the “informal faculty evaluation” that was constitutionally required, because two hearings were held — and he was represented by counsel at one of them — and he had exercised his appellate rights.

Law and Campus
8/13/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

What it means: When a public higher education institution dismisses a student for academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism, it must give the student due process.

And that due process could include permission for the student to be represented by an attorney at a hearing.

Summary: Sujanie Gamage submitted a dissertation to her advisory committee in the chemistry program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in February 2011.

A chemistry professor filed a report in June 2011 alleging that Gamage’s dissertation contained plagiarized text.

After a hearing, the university’s academic integrity appeal panel found Gamage had committed plagiarism. She was removed from the program.

Gamage sued, disputing the academic misconduct and claiming violation of due process rights because she was prevented from being represented and/or assisted by an advisor at the hearing.

The university filed a motion to dismiss.

The judge said the Due Process Clause prohibited arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

Noting the complaint alleged UNLV prevented her from returning to the university and effectively from being admitted to another higher education institution, he ruled Gamage had adequately pled a deprivation of constitutionally protected interests.

The judge refused to dismiss the case.

You Be the Judge
8/7/2013 12:00 AM
Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

He allegedly had a heated exchange with a professor when he attempted to drop a course. The professor reported the incident to the department chairman and a meeting was arranged to discuss other complaints against Reichert. The chairman concluded Reichert should be expelled because he represented a threat to others.

The provost overruled the chairman’s decision after Reichert and his parents protested. But Reichert claimed the provost and faculty members devised a multipart plan to force him out. Reichert alleged he was denied further accommodations, rumors were spread about him, and faculty members were told to “make a record of all [his] inappropriate behaviors.”

After a meeting between Reichert and the dean of students, the dean scheduled a disciplinary hearing, which was rescheduled because Reichert had a seizure. Additional meetings were scheduled to discuss Reichert’s professional competency and a plagiarism accusation. Because Reichert suffered a mental breakdown, the college allowed him to take a medical leave of absence but told him he had to face those hearings before returning.

Reichert filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his civil rights as a person with a disability. He also asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleging a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.

Reichert v. Elizabethtown College, et al., No. 10-2248 (E.D. Pa. 04/10/12)

Did the court dismiss the student’s claims?

A. Yes. The court dismissed the claims for violation of civil rights because the university was a private entity and wasn’t acting under color of law.

B. Yes. The court dismissed the claims alleging conspiracy because he couldn’t show that two or more people conspired to have him dismissed.

C. No. The court upheld the claims for violation of civil rights because the university, by virtue of being a recipient of federal funds, acted under color of law.

D. No. The court upheld the conspiracy claim because the allegations were sufficient to establish a possible conspiracy among college officials with the objective of having the student dismissed.

Correct answer: A and D.

The claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed because Reichert couldn’t show the college was a “state actor.” But the judge noted Reichert’s allegations established the required elements for the § 1985 claim. Because he alleged the individual defendants held at least one meeting to unlawfully remove him and also asserted other allegations of disability-based discrimination, the judge decided not to dismiss the claim.

Editor’s note: This feature isn’t intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

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    Claudine brings two decades of extensive and varied experience in journalism and publishing to Student Affairs Today. An award-winning editor, Claudine keeps up with the ever-changing world of student affairs by staying in close contact with experts on various hot topics and by attending professional conferences
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