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UM to accommodate faculty, students displaced by hurricanes in Caribbean islands

From The Miami Hurricane

The University of Miami will allow graduate students and faculty from the storm-ravaged Caribbean to continue their research in Miami until their respective institutions are reopened.

The university has agreed to provide the opportunity for free, allowing the displaced faculty and students’ home institutions to keep tuition revenues. The university will also be providing academic opportunities for “a few hundred undergraduate students and other graduate students from the affected areas,” according to the announcement, made on Oct. 5.

Students will be enrolled in different departments and take classes to receive credits to go toward their graduation requirements in their home countries. Faculty will be able to use UM facilities to continue research. More details will be released.

Executive Vice President and Provost Jeffrey Duerk said eligible students must be able to enter the United States and will be accepted if the UM school or department is able to provide accommodations. The decisions will be made on a school or departmental basis, and the university is hesitant to put a cap on the number to avoid underestimating its true capacity, the provost said.

“We’re trying to be as fluid as we can,” Duerk said.

In an email to UM faculty and staff from Oct. 6, Duerk estimated the university’s undergraduate capacity at 300.

In 2005, the university followed a similar approach with students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. UM received hundreds of inquiries and accommodated students from universities on the Gulf Coast. The students enrolled as non-degree seeking students and paid tuition for the credits received. However, the tuition was put into an escrow account to be received by the students’ home universities.

Duerk said the university started considering how to respond to natural disasters this year after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in late August.

“We started looking at how we could model a response similar to what happened here with Katrina,” Duerk said. “In doing that, a lot of the situations or questions that arose in putting together a response for Harvey were ones we could draw quickly with the people who were affected by Maria. We were ready quite early and had an idea with how we would respond.”

The decision also comes after nine faculty members met with UM President Julio Frenk, members of Frenk’s leadership team and Duerk Oct. 4 to discuss a faculty-led letter and petition asking the university to accommodate displaced Caribbean students and faculty.

The letter, addressed to Frenk and members of the UM Board of Trustees, asked the administration to accommodate students from the region in university classrooms and housing for the duration of the semester or academic calendar year at no cost to the students. The petition also asked for displaced faculty to be “provided with office and laboratory space, and library access.”

Duerk said more than 99 percent of the school’s on-campus housing is at capacity, and finding external agents to provide faculty and students accommodations outside the university is something they’re “working on right now.”

William Pestle, associate professor in the department of anthropology and creator of the faculty petition, said the decision is a “very good first step.” However, even though Pestle said he has full confidence that the university will honor its word, it will “come down to execution.”

“We made it clear to the president and the administration that we intend to follow up and make sure the commitments he made to us, and he and the institution are going to make to the people of the affected region, are honored,” Pestle said.

Two weeks ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked colleges and universities to offer in-state tuition for Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria. Some Florida schools, such as Broward College and Miami-Dade College, will waive out-of-state fees for Puerto Rican students.

“This is the realization that the University of Miami was, in some ways, behind other peer institutions as far as announcing accommodations for students and faculty,” Pestle said. “Despite that, I think that we’re making up for the speed of things with the quality and depth of the response.”

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