New Travel Policy Helps Keep Employees Safe, Faculty Senate Told
The University of Arizona's new policy for international travel is designed to keep employees safe when traveling on University business outside U.S. borders, International Risk Analyst Laura Provencher told the Faculty Senate on Monday.
The Interim Policy for International Travel Safety and Compliance (PDF) took effect in September and requires that would-be travelers on University business register their trips in advance by completing a travel questionnaire and then having the trip approved by submitting a travel authorization form.
Provencher was asked to present the policy as an information item so senators could find out more and ask questions.
The policy is especially designed to help the UA quickly locate employees who visit areas where the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings. But even employees headed to non-warning areas need to notify the University of their travel plans because sometimes dangerous but unpredictable things happen in those regions as well, she said.
Having employees submit paperwork in advance takes the burden off them of having to figure out whether they need any special instructions because Provencher's office, located in the Office of Global Initiatives, can make all the phone calls necessary to find out what the employee needs to know, she said.
"We want to be able to offer you any recommendations that can possibly make that trip safer," she said. "I personally have contacted embassies in Pakistan (and) Mexico to say, 'Is this route really the safest route? Is this the safest hotel for this faculty member or employee of the state? Have there been any incidences of crime or terrorism?'" Provencher said.
She said she was once able to get the cell phone number from an embassy security officer to give to a traveler.
The purpose of the policy is to ensure the UA is following all federal and state guidelines as they relate to international travel, as well as to assist employees with their plans, Provencher said. Failure to comply can mean an employee won't receive reimbursement for travel expenses.
Provencher said knowing the locations of employees traveling abroad is important when natural disasters happen.
"We had an earthquake in China just a couple weeks ago, and I was able to contact everyone who had registered and just check in and say, 'Are you OK? You weren't supposed to be in that area, but if you were, this is what the embassy is advising you should do.'"
Senator Stanley Pau, associate professor of optical sciences, noted that traveling to Canada is much different from traveling to Pakistan and questioned the need for a blanket travel policy that covers both countries the same way.
"Is it possible to set up a list of countries where we have to fill out this form, and then there's other countries where we don't?" he asked.
Provencher said the paperwork is fairly quick and easy to complete with a series of yes/no questions and clarified that an additional "supplemental travel authorization form" is only necessary for travel to countries with travel warnings.
Employees can log on to the University's new Terra Dotta international travel tracking system to submit the appropriate documentation.
Senator Lynn Nadel, professor of psychology, said he feels employees have to do a lot of unnecessary work when chances are slim that anything bad would happen while they were away on University business.
"Why do we need to do this for non-warning countries?" he asked. "What's the risk involved? Why is it important for us to do this for every trip we take, including the ones where you don't need that much information?"
Provencher gave two reasons: liability and federal regulations.
And then there's the issue of the unpredictable, she said.
"Many countries don't have travel warnings, and things happen," she said. "In Japan, no one was planning for a tsunami. And when that happened, nobody knew where our employees were because travel authorizations didn't have to be submitted until after (a trip). So people were frantically calling all the different departments, and hours were wasted trying to determine who's where."
Under the new system, such determination can be made within minutes. Then, the University can contact the travelers to offer information and assistance for their particular situation.
Nadal said a tsunami doesn't happen very frequently.
"This is the trade-off question," he said. "For something that happens once every 50 years, does that mean that 1,500 faculty have to fill out forms every day for all of those 50 years? Is it worth all of this extra work to deal with that one extremely unlikely event?"
Senator Laura McCammon, professor of theatre, film and television, said such instances happen more frequently than people realize.
When a series of bombings happened in London, one of her students was there with a group of students from a school where the student had been working, she said.
"It was helpful to know where she was," McCammon said.
She added that she had colleagues who were trapped when a massive earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, and she herself was stranded in Norway a few years ago when the famous volcano eruption happened that shot so much smoke into the sky that travel was prevented for several days.
"So, those things happen and you don't plan on it, and sometimes it's helpful for people to know where you are," McCammon said.
In other news, Non-Tenure/Tenure Task Force Chair Michael Brewer, a team leader in the UA Libraries, gave an update on his group's activities and findings.
The task force was formed earlier this year for the purpose of studying clarity and consistency in the use of job titles, comparable job expectations, compensation and career track options.
There are 268 non-tenure-track faculty members with full-time teaching loads who have no clinical or research responsibilities, Brewer said.
He said titles of non-tenure-track faculty vary across colleges, making it difficult to get an overall sense of what all of them do.
Additionally, such employees have only a limited voice in faculty governance.
Chair of the Faculty Wanda Howell, a professor of nutritional sciences, said she would like to find a way to give such faculty members more input.
Monday's meeting was the Faculty Senate's final meeting of the current school year. The senate will meet again from 3-5 p.m. Sept. 9 in Law 164.