Thoughts on the Study Abroad Advisory Committee

The creation of the Study Abroad Advisory Committee was announced on Friday, and it represents a clear commitment on the part of the administration to rectify the mistakes they made in planning and announcing the changes to study abroad.  It is composed of three administrators, three faculty members, and three students, all chosen for their expertise and influence on the study abroad program.  True to the spirit of community involvement in which it was created, the committee has launched an open my Brandeis forum to allow everyone to share their thoughts (check it out if you haven’t yet).

It’s important to note that Brandeis is going to see significant changes to the study abroad program next year.  While taking away merit aid that was promised for study abroad was a bad way of cutting costs, the decision represents the fundamental truth that the current system is set up with luxuries that Brandeis can no longer afford.  Kim Godsoe, the Dean of Academic Services, warned the student body in the e-mail introducing the committee that

There will need to be significant changes to the current study abroad policies to ensure fiscal viability for the program and the university.  Possible changes could include limiting the number and type of study abroad programs in which students may participate, limiting student participation in the study abroad experience, and/or restricting the use of all financial aid for students who wish to study abroad.  None of these choices is the kind that we want to make, but potentially painful choices will be necessary to ensure the program remains within budget.

The necessity of restructuring the program makes it all the more important that students take advantage of the opportunity to share their views on the my Brandeis board.  There is no other way to ensure that another flawed policy does not go into effect.

It is not the adminstration’s fault that changes will occur, and they have shown their dedication to the study abroad program by running it at a loss to give students as many options as possible.  Indeed, they deserve great credit for creating this committee, a tacit admission that they made a mistake with the merit aid (a policy I’m almost certain will be overturned) and a sign that they intend to learn from it and that they have always kept the students’ best interests in mind.  Credit also goes to the students behind the creation of the committee.  Committee member Alex Melman took action on the merit aid issue as a Senator from the  beginning and has refused to let it go away, as shown by his constant updates on its progress on Innermost Parts.  Jason Gray, who always seems to come through for us, collected stories of students that the decision affected and lobbied directly for a policy change.  Many students e-mailed and talked directly to administrators, turning their dissatisfaction into positive action.

I believe the most important element of study abroad is to keep it open in some form to as many students as possible.  Consequently, it might be best to start by cutting down the number of available programs and preserving only the most popular and cost-effective.  However, I would be suprised if there were no new limitations on who can go abroad.  At the very least, I’m heartened to know that a collection of strong, committed minds is working on the problems with the voices of the whole Brandeis community involved.