'I am 911'

A University of New Hampshire lecturer is dismissed after administrators question medical decisions she made leading a trip to Nicaragua. She says she could have used more support from the institution -- not condemnation.

March 25, 2013

A University of New Hampshire study abroad program to Nicaragua was canceled and the faculty leader’s appointment was not renewed after administrators raised concerns about her judgments on health and safety-related matters. Pamela Broido, a lecturer and American Sign Language program coordinator, said her situation speaks to the precarious position of contingent faculty and the need for universities to offer greater support to the increasing numbers of professors leading study abroad trips.

In a Feb. 6 email to Broido announcing the decision to cancel the June service learning trip, Neil B. Vroman, the interim dean of the College of Health and Human Services, wrote that “[t]his decision is based on judgments you made in a previous study away trip around emergency medical procedures which put you, participating students, and the institution at unacceptable risk.”

In an e-mail interview, Vroman would not elaborate on the specific judgments to which he was referring. But Broido said the trouble started when she obtained prescriptions for an EpiPen and inhaler, in her name, and stocked them in a first aid kit. 

“I am 911 down there,” said Broido, whose concerns about emergency preparedness were heightened after two separate incidents. In one, a student was bitten by a scorpion and, in the other, five students experienced respiratory distress during a visit to a volcano. (The five shared a single student-owned inhaler during the car ride back to Managua.)

“We don’t always have a car," Broido said. "We don’t always have access to instant medical care."

Broido said that both medicines went unused during the two-week trip to Nicaragua that she led in January.  But when she subsequently submitted the prescriptions for reimbursement, red flags rose up around the university. She was called in by the dean, who was upset “that I did not, in his words, vet this through his office.”

“I said I was completely unaware that this was the appropriate move and I apologized,” said Broido, who, in cooperation with an NGO, Compas de Nicaragua, has led UNH students on two-week trips as part of a four-credit service learning course offered twice a year since 2009. “I said I’m happy to work with whomever to make sure that my students are safe.”

Broido said she presented the dean with letters of support, including one from a nurse practitioner, Amy Coombs, who wrote that she had discussed Broido’s concerns about emergency preparedness with her during a December visit. Coombs wrote that she had prescribed Broido an EpiPen, Vistaril (which is similar to Benadryl), Cipro for diarrhea, and an albuterol inhaler, and that she had discussed with her the Good Samaritan Law, which provides legal protections to people who administer emergency first aid.

“At the time of that visit we discussed if an emergency came up with one of her students how and when to use these medications if immediate medical care was not available,” Coombs wrote.

None of this mattered, Broido said. “[The dean] said that I hadn’t acted appropriately and that I was un-trustable.”

The planned trip for this spring was canceled and, one week later, Broido learned via a three-sentence letter that her contract would not be renewed for the 2013-14 academic year. No reason was given. 

“The UNH Nicaragua trip was canceled this year only after we determined that there was uncertainty as to whether the program would satisfy our expectations for student safety,” Vroman, the dean, said via e-mail. “While it was a difficult decision, it was the only appropriate way to uphold our commitment to students and parents that our international programs will provide a safe and educational experience.”

The students in Broido’s spring semester service learning class – which had already started by the time the trip was canceled -- have stated plans to sign up for a Compas de Nicaragua trip independently this June. Broido, who by then will be a former UNH employee, will be joining them on site.

“We’re still excited; we’re still going,” said Stephanie Hill, a senior who took the trip as a student in Broido’s class last fall and volunteered to be a teaching assistant this semester. Hill described the trip – her first out of the country – as life-changing. “But it breaks our hearts because after this semester other students won’t get this experience.”

Vroman said he has contacted every student in Broido’s class, "informing them that any trip to Nicaragua they might take would not be associated with nor sanctioned by the university.” He said that UNH is assessing how the program – Broido’s design – might be offered again in the future.

The situation at UNH speaks to two separate issues: the issue of providing support and resources to faculty who are leading study abroad programs, and the lack of due process for lecturers. Broido is a member of the newly formed Lecturer Faculty Council at UNH, and said she has been at the university for 14 years. 

"No medicines were used; there were no accidents," Broido stressed. "To dismiss a 14-year loyal faculty member who loves her job based on a hypothetical, that to me makes no sense.”

 “At UNH, [lecturers] have virtually no due process,” said Deanna Wood, the president of New Hampshire’s American Association of University Professors chapter and a librarian and associate professor. “In Pam’s case, there’s no one to take it to. There’s no other court of last resort, to see if this could be adjudicated more fairly -- I’d say, more thoughtfully.”        

In his e-mail, Vroman described the decision not to reappoint Broido as the result of a routine reevaluation of departmental needs: “The decision not to extend Broido an appointment offer for next year was made in close consultation with the faculty member who serves as the department chair. These decisions are made each year, and are informed by the staffing needs of the department, anticipated course offerings and current student enrollment figures,” he said. (The department chair, Penelope E. Webster, confirmed that she was involved in the consultation process, but declined further comment given that it is a personnel matter.)

Vroman also described an array of services that the study abroad office provides to support faculty leading study abroad programs, writing, “Over the last several years, UNH has increased its services and support for faculty-led study abroad programs from the development phase through to program implementation. Under the auspices of the University Committee on Study Abroad, UNH implemented a proposal process for faculty-led short-term programs that includes consultation and comment on the full range of program logistics and risk management.” He pointed to the university’s new International Travel Risk Review policy and its program operation guidelines.

He noted that Broido had been invited to all faculty training workshops, which cover such topics as risk management and emergency planning. And he wrote that the director of the Center for International Education had “consulted with [Broido] at length about some of the risk management issues around leading students on an international program. At her request, student evaluations of her program were analyzed to identify areas of improvement.”

Broido said that she had indeed been invited to training workshops -- she found one on risk management to be mildly useful -- and that she had talked to staff in the study abroad office about things like emergency phone contacts and how to use a purchasing card. But she believes “there is real room for improvement.”

“Other than visits of my own volition over to the study abroad office, the extent of communication was the sharing of links to websites on UNH -- that I have looked over -- that are very general," Broido said. "I say this for myself and also other study abroad leaders, that the real kind of help that we could use would be workshops and trainings that would offer to us real skills and real guidance."

“It would have helped me immensely to have, for example, the study abroad office offer first aid training and CPR certification training, and to be given clear documents on compliance. And there should be regular meetings with all the study abroad leaders, so we can support each other, share information; we can share our strategy.” 

Melanie McCallon, associate director for education abroad at Murray State University and co-author of the book Faculty-Led 360, said that while she couldn’t comment on the type of training offered to faculty at UNH, generally speaking she doesn’t think that universities are doing enough to support study abroad program leaders.

Her own institution, Murray State, may be atypical in requiring all new faculty study abroad leaders to participate in three workshops, one on course design and program development, one on the student recruitment and the application process, and one that covers various logistical, disciplinary and health and safety-related issues that faculty might encounter. The latter session is scenario-based, drawing on things that have happened on previous Murray State study abroad programs. 

“We expect so much of our faculty when they’re running programs abroad. We expect them to be everything to us, to the students, to the parents and to the other directors of the program. And in order for them to do that they have to know what it is we want from them,” McCallon said.

“From a broader perspective I think the most important piece in this is if you’re going to implement high-quality programs you’ve got to deal with both the academic and the student services side,” said Gary Rhodes, the director of the Center for Global Education at the University of California at Los Angeles, which hosts a clearinghouse of resources on safety in study abroad.  “It’s critical that the people who are responsible for effective student services are part of the process of developing and implementing programs.”

“Faculty are trained to teach their academic area: they’re not trained to be experts on sexual harassment and assault, transportation and safety, crime issues, dealing with students with special needs, responding to volcanic matter. That’s not their expertise,” said Rhodes, who added that “some of the deaths and injuries of study abroad students in the past were the results of decisions of well-meaning faculty.”

“I deal on a semi-regular basis with the parents of students who have died on study abroad programs. I think they would suggest that the university is doing the right thing on erring on the side of the safety of the students. If there are questions that they have about safety issues, I think it’s the correct decision for the university to say, ‘Until we have it set up in a way that we’re confident about the safety of the students, we need to stop offering the program,’ whether it’s because of a State Department travel warning or concerns about any issue regarding program implementation.”


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