Semester at Sea Loses Academic Port

Pittsburgh severs ties to popular study abroad program for which it awarded credit to students nationwide.
June 8, 2005

Semester at Sea may no longer have a campus port.

The University of Pittsburgh has been the academic sponsor of the program for more than 20 years. So the students -- only a small minority of whom are from Pitt -- have received credit through the university. But Pitt has announced that because of its concerns about the program's management, it is cutting off ties to the program.

Semester at Sea, meanwhile, is suing Pitt, charging that the university's contract with the program requires a longer transition period for either party to sail away.

About 650 students each term participate in Semester at Sea, in which they travel to various locations around the world and complete academic assignments under the supervision of faculty members, and earn 12-15 credits. Several hundred others participate in a shorter summer session.

In a statement, Pittsburgh criticized the program for switching to a new entity to provide its ship, about a year ago. The statement noted that the program's new ship "suffered significant damage" in the Pacific this spring. "The incident triggered questions, by knowledgeable third parties, both of the ship's design and of the route chosen for the voyage," the statement said.

The university went on to say that it was "NOT saying that upcoming voyages will be unsafe." However, it said that Semester at Sea should provide potential participants with better information to "enable them to assess the involved risks."

Paul H. Watson, a spokesman for Semester at Sea, said that the program expects Pitt to remain as the academic sponsor until a smooth transition can be arranged. But he said that the program could easily find other academic sponsors, and that participants will not be affected.

Watson said that the ship used by the program is in "full compliance" with U.S. and international safety standards and that there was "no reason" for anyone to worry about the safety of students on the ship.

Noting that program staffers and their families frequently travel with the students, Watson said, "safety is our first priority. We would never put our students or faculty in danger. That's our first priority, unequivocally."



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