News  Exemption added to travel directive

Administration listens to Senate on guidelines

Students will now be able to seek an exemption from McGill’s travel guidelines, which provide University-wide standards on curricular or co-curricular travel to specific countries or regions.

The updated version of the guidelines – which include an exemption clause outlining how a student may receive permission to visit prohibited country and clearer language describing rules regarding employment in foreign nations during study abroad – were revealed to the McGill Senate on January 21, at which Senators were invited to give feedback, though not their approval, before a finalized version of the guidelines is released by the end of February.

Senate voted to suspend the directive on November 5, demanding that it pass consultation with Senate’s steering committee before being approved, but the adminsitration claimed that the directive did not fall under Senate’s academic purview, and rendered the November vote void. However, a draft of travel guidelines was later sent to select members of the Senate for review over Winter Break.

According to Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton J. Mendelson, whose office drafted the travel directive in September 2008 and all of its subsequent updates, the number of students requiring exemptions will likely be so low that McGill can grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. He cited schools such as the University of Saskatchewan and Duke University as having similar policies.

“In other universities that have this kind of exemption, the number of requests per year is about a dozen,” Mendelson said.

The guidelines follow travel advisories issued by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) to determine where students can travel, prohibiting travel to countries or regions with a level-three “avoid all non-essential travel” or level-four “avoid all travel” warning. The exemption will only apply for level-three travel in which a student considers travelling to be essential. According to a clause in the present draft, exemptions must first be approved by the relevant faculty’s dean and department chair before undergoing review by the Deputy Provost, who can set conditions on approval.

SSMU VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson asserted that the approval process required for travel exemptions contributes toward an unwieldy bureaucracy.

“I know that [the deans and Professor Mendelson] are busy people,” Wilkinson said. “And I know that undergraduate travel to dangerous places is not something they want to [look at too quickly]. There will be less [exemptions], as it’s clear to students that their applications aren’t processed with haste.”

As some travel cases include examples in which a student would be prevented from travelling to their home country because it’s listed by DFAIT, Mendelson indicated that the exemption system could take this into account.

“Students with certain kinds of experience would be in a better position to have exemption than other students in a specific area,” he said.

Wilkinson explained that while the guidelines have become more reasonable, their creation was unnecessary.

“We do need guidelines that make sure students are informed and safe, but there has to be a much more local decision process that respects autonomy,” Wilkinson said. “My main issue with this is that students also care about safety and have the capacity to make informed decisions.”

Mendelson predicted that the finalized guidelines will mostly resemble those sent recently to the Senate for discussion.