CDC Ebola
Credit: Photo courtersy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Recent local, national, and international media coverage of Ebola has prompted inquiries about UNM’s response to Ebola and crisis management preparedness. This week, the UNM Global Education Office (GEO) clarified there are no international students or scholars on student visas currently enrolled at UNM from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, the countries on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) level three warning list for Ebola. Additionally, there are no UNM students or faculty currently engaged in or planning study abroad trips to those countries.

“The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our number one priority,” said Mary Anne Saunders, special assistant to the president for global initiatives. “While UNM’s vulnerability in this particular global crisis is currently low, we remain actively engaged in monitoring this emergent situation among others as part of our normal risk management operations.”

According to Linda Melville, associate director for GEO International Student and Scholar Services, “historically UNM has received only a handful of applications for admission from students or scholars from these countries.” Melville elaborated that UNM also has not historically hosted study abroad trips to these areas.

Currently, there are 1,339 international students enrolled at UNM with the majority coming from China, India, Brazil, Iran, and South Korea–the top-five countries of origin for international students at the University.

GEO follows guidance and regulations from the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security and State Department. GEO further monitors information and alerts from the CDC, the World Health Organization, professional organizations who develop leading practices, and the home-country embassies of its international students and scholars. The CDC, for example, recently published guidance for colleges and universities.

GEO, in collaboration with the UNM Student Health Center, evaluated risk according to the guidance from the CDC and concluded there were no imminent Ebola threats on campus.

“We want to be careful not to make assumptions or conduct ourselves in ways that spread fear about people based on their nationality,” said Melville. “Nationality is not the determining factor; anyone traveling to or making contact with those traveling to areas where the disease is widespread is what is important about evaluating risk in this situation.”

For outbound faculty, students, and staff, GEO Associate Director for Education Abroad David Wright monitors risk daily. “Global health crises, natural disasters, and geopolitical threats are among key areas that must be evaluated regularly. Ebola is just one of several considerations for Education Abroad. We will not send students, faculty, or staff to areas that are identified as unsafe.”

GEO Education Abroad utilizes a university-wide study abroad advisory committee to evaluate risk and make recommendations to deans and the provost on outbound study abroad travel. GEO Education Abroad participated in the process that revised UNM Policy 2710, “Education Abroad Health and Safety.” That policy requires all outbound students, faculty, and staff to register their study abroad trips with GEO and to obtain adequate insurance coverage before departure. The revised policy is currently open for public comment through Nov. 4.

Having real-time information about where our students, faculty, and staff are around the world and how to contact them is critical for effective risk management,” said Wright.

The current version of Policy 2710 in effect is available here and includes the provision that, “UNM will not offer or support Trips whose dates and destinations are or become subject to a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning or a CDCP [Centers for Disease Control Prevention] Travel Health Warning, unless special circumstances justify an exemption or a Trip is already in progress.” The provost decides whether to grant an exemption in consultation with the university-wide study abroad advisory committee.

Saunders says any emergency situations that arise in the future will be handled in an immediate and efficient manner in alignment with prevailing regulations and leading practices and in consultation with the appropriate organizations and stakeholders. “The best approach we can take is to position ourselves to have the most up-to-date information and be ready to respond quickly. That’s what we try to do at GEO.”