Red tape grounds club’s aid trip to Sri Lanka

UAA’s Architectural and Engineering Technologies Club’s post-semester travel plans are stuck in red tape. The club, established at the start of the fall 2004 semester, formed to send teams to national competitions. This spring, however, the competition the club was set to attend, a Construction Specifications Institute design competition, was canceled. Searching for another activity, the club decided to send a group of students aboard to assist the tsunami-relief effort in southeast Asia. The club decided to travel to Sri Lanka.

“We narrowed it down to Sri Lanka as where we wanted to go based on safety issues,” said Bob Maxwell, the club’s adviser.

The club advertised its trip and gathered students from engineering, architectural technology, biology and nursing, and began to organize fund-raising events to pay for the trip. Other than contributions donated to the club from Anchorage businesses, the club planned a car raffle and spaghetti feed. However, the club’s plans were interrupted April 2 when Maxwell received a letter from Bruce Schultz, associate dean of students, ordering the club to cease all fund-raising activities.

“At that point, I had an emergency meeting with the officers and decided to appeal the decision,” Maxwell said.

Specifically, the club wished to appeal two claims made in Schultz’s letter. In his letter, Schultz claimed sponsoring international travel was outside the function of a club and the club’s planned endeavor was too risky.

“So we checked the club constitutions and stuff and could find nothing that said that there was a scope anywhere,” Maxwell said.

Schultz said the trip was canceled mainly because the club failed to follow proper procedures to gain permission for the trip.

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“The first I had become aware of the activity was the 31st of March, and I had seen postings around campus,” Schultz said. “We did some investigation and found out that the organization had not gone through the proper channels to clear the travel. The trip, the activity, was too high risk, is what we determined, for them to make it happen in such a short period of time.”

Schultz said any kind of international travel requires a lot of preparation time due to the greater risk involved. The statewide Office of Risk Management, which allocates insurance for students traveling abroad, requires a minimum of 30 days notice.

Schultz said the lack of specific travel plans was another major concern.

“Our concern was that there was not a sufficient amount of lead time nor was there any detailed plan,” Schultz said. “Students were expressing concerns that they did not have a placement site nailed down.”

Damjan Jutric, a former member of the AET Club and a USUAA senator, said since the Ptarmigan Peak accident in 1997, where a UAA group was rock climbing and two students were killed, the administration has been much more stringent on student safety during travel. Jutric left the club due to time constraints and the uncertainty of the club getting approval to travel.

“It’s been very hard to set up plans,” Jutric said. “There was just a lot of concern over safety.”

The original appeal, sent to Chancellor Elaine Maimon, was returned with a statement that the appeal must first be sent to Linda Lazzell, vice chancellor. Lazzell hasn’t yet ruled on the appeal.

Regardless of the final decision, Maxwell said the students will travel. If the university refuses them permission, they can fund it themselves independent from the AET Club and from university control. The disadvantage to going rogue is any money the group raised as part of the club will be unavailable to them, so the students would have to begin raising money from scratch.

Maxell is still optimistic, saying the determination of this group is commendable.

“This is a group of people that wants to go out there and help the world,” Maxwell said. “They’d be representing Alaska, the university and Americans going overseas and doing the right thing.”