By Theresa Schliep
The Fordham University Ubuntu Program, a study abroad service experience based at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, has been suspended for the Spring 2017 semester, according to Maura Mast, dean of Fordham College Rose Hill.
This suspension is due to the safety concerns of studying in South Africa as well as over the quality of the experience, according to Mast. South Africa has been immersed in protests against increasing tuition prices and other problems in higher education. Some universities in South Africa have closed temporarily, and University of Pretoria has prohibited some student involvement in these protests from registering.
Mast said Fordham’s decision was greatly influenced by safety concerns. However, the academic experience was also taken into consideration.
“There is concern that the protests will continue this Spring and that they may be violent,” said Mast in an email interview with The Fordham Ram. “We were concerned about safety and were also concerned that if the university closed for an extended period of time, then the academic experience for our students might be disrupted or compromised.”
Students were informed of the decision on Nov. 14, according to Hannah Ervin, FCRH ’18, who planned to study abroad in South Africa this semester.
The preparation for the trip was going smoothly, Ervin said, and there was no impression that anything was wrong. She said the university had not communicated with students about the situation in South Africa, which has not been covered much by western media.
“We didn’t know they weren’t in classes,” said Ervin. “That was never disclosed to us.”
Ervin said they had about four days to decide on their plans for the semester. Ervin, seeking an untraditional study abroad experience, decided to stay at Rose Hill for the semester.
Mast said that the Study Abroad office worked with students to determine their plans for Spring 2017. Some decided to stay at Rose Hill, while others decided to “transfer to another Fordham program (such as the Fordham London Centre) or to other programs such as the Casa Bayanihan community-based learning program offered by the University of San Francisco.”
The decision did not come easy, said Mast.
“It was a difficult decision, but we could not guarantee that the academic portion of the program would be delivered without significant disruption, which might impact the students’ experience or the quality of the program,” said Mast.
Annie David, FCRH ’18, was also supposed to go to South Africa for the semester. Ultimately, she chose to go to the Philippines as a part of the Casa Bayanihan community-based learning program, but she said she was disappointed by the suspension and how the university handled the situation.
“We were not given any forewarning that the program wasn’t a sure thing,” said David in an email interview with The Fordham Ram. However, she is happy with her decision to go to the Philippines.
“I am currently in the Philippines and am very happy I decided to do Casa,” said David. “It is a service-learning and immersion study abroad experience based in Ignation tradition. It is one of the best decisions I have made.”
Mast acknowledged the suspension was upsetting, but that the Study Abroad office worked with students to find alternative plans for the semester.
“I know it must have been very disappointing for the students who were planning to go to South Africa,” said Mast. “The students were notified as soon as possible once the decision was made. As I noted earlier, Joe Rienti met with them as a group and then worked closely with each student to explore alternatives.”
Mast said the program is currently under review to return Spring 2018.