University initiates travel policy

James Vaughn

Students and organizations who wish to travel now have a few more hoops to jump through. the Student Domestic Travel Policy took effect July 1.

The policy, which took nearly two years to mold, emphasizes safety during university sponsored trips.

“It didn’t exist,” said Marcia Kiessling, associate provost for student affairs. “That’s part of the reason why it took so long. We really wanted it to be as student-friendly as it could be and make sense.”

Individually, students can do what they want. But if they are traveling within organizations or the university is supporting the trip financially, the policy is in place to provide expectations, which include following federal, state and university policies.

Students must conduct themselves in accordance with accepted standards and social behavior, respect the rights of others, attend all scheduled events and activities in a timely manner, be responsible for all expenses, be financially responsible for any damages or losses, follow hotel policies and follow the university guidelines for alcoholic beverage consumption.

“I’m sure we had some kind of expectation, but we didn’t really have anything solid,” Kiessling said. “As students, how could they know what the expectations were if they couldn’t find it anywhere?”

Students will no longer be authorized to travel in their personal vehicles. The university wants students to use rental vehicles because liability follows a rental. Exceptions will only be made to students who are traveling on behalf of the university locally, which includes Evansville, New Harmony and Henderson.

The university piloted the policy last year within club sports.

“They were going to tournaments and saying there are 20 of us going, we’re going to go in six different vehicles and we’re leaving on two different days at all these different times,” Kiessling said. “When you have all of that, it creates an opportunity for more problems. If it’s group travel, then make it group travel.”

Risk Management and Safety Director John Hunt said the policy should be looked at as an improvement rather than an increased liability for the university.

“We had responsibilities, but they weren’t spelled out,” Hunt said. “The fact that we’ve developed a clear policy will reduce the risk.”

Because no policy can guarantee the complete safety of anyone, the university provides authorized excess medical insurance of up to $25,000 per injured individual, he said.

Where students are staying during trips has also become a concern. University personnel discovered instances where eight or 10 students were staying in one hotel room, Kiessling said.

“That’s not even in line with what the hotel policies are,” she said. “It’s just not a good situation.”

Expectations include following hotel policies as well as separating genders and same-sex couples who are in relationships.

“Whether it’s completely paid for, partially paid for or students are paying for it by themselves, there’s responsibility that comes with representing your school, and that’s basically what a lot of this (policy) addresses,” Kiessling said.

Travel will soon require training. Eventually, students and organizations who do not take part in an orientation will not be permitted to travel.

Student Development Programs Director Carmen Stoen said basic information regarding the policy will be introduced during student organization renewal sessions in September.

“We know that the students need to know, but we don’t want to make everyone sit through the training when only about half of them will actually travel,” Stoen said. “If they plan to travel, they’ll need to attend a travel training.”

It’s important that at least one student in each organization know about the policy, she said.

A couple of student groups have traveled since July 1.

“We know they felt much safer about their travel,” Stoen said.

She said the policy will be promoted via email, OrgSync and word of mouth within academic departments.

Expectations for university representatives, advisers, faculty and staff are also spelled out in the policy.