Is there anything else I can do? If not, help me let it go.
June 10, 2009 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Is there any further action I can take to recoup the financial loss and and deal with the emotional frustration resulting from my university's swine-flu-panic decision to cancel a much-anticipated field research opportunity?

For over a year, my fellow grad students and I had been planning for a month-long field research opportunity in [foreign country]. For several of us, it was part of our motivation to attend this university – research opportunities in our field for non-PhD grad students are rare, and this is a small and amazing program to benefit a community in need. The summer research has been going on successfully for several years now. Our professor works unbelievably hard to arrange this...it takes an amazing amount of coordination and resources to make it all come together.

A few days after swine flu was initially announced in the media (late April) – and almost two months before our research was to begin, this June – I received notice from our professor that our trip had been canceled by a [certain office at the university in charge of assessing risk]. Upon hearing this, we all made many attempts to salvage the situation on many fronts, to no avail. Because swine flu is no longer a major threat, the tickets are booked through online travel companies, and the flights are international, none of us are able to reschedule or refund our tickets. Even with insurance, which I bought at booking. We also can't afford to take a "forced vacation" (ie. taking our flights and spending a month playing in [foreign country]). For me, this is $600 of sunk cost. Additionally, this research would have provided us with a summer opportunity to earn a necessary 3 units towards our graduation. Without it, many of us must spend an extra unplanned semester at our university, including the cost of tuition, books, and time spent. And of course, not to mention missing out on the experience of a lifetime, which can't really be compensated for any other way.

Two weeks after the decision, I contacted the person at the university office that made the cancellation, and sent them a very professional yet personal email explaining how this negatively impacted us students, and that we are unable to resolve things. He ignored all that, and replied with a generic response and blamed the State Dept. for the decision. This prompted me to send a follow-up email, calmly expressing my frustration with his manner of communication, lack of concern, and the financial cost and emotional distress his/their decision has left us with. He remains unconcerned, and frankly, somewhat hostile with his minimal replies. This all has left me feeling bitter, disillusioned, and now angry.

My flight leaves this Friday, without me on it. As it approaches, I feel increasingly helpless and frustrated. I cannot seem to let this go. Especially if there is something more I could do to resolve the financial or emotional aspects of this unfortunate situation.

Are there any things I can do, big or small that will:
a) Make me/us feel better.
b) Get the university to acknowledge us and/or take some positive action, however small, to help us out and/or prevent their lame handling of a situation from happening again. I do not wish to start controversy or create problems however.
c) Help recoup the $600 airline cost – even if it has nothing to do with the airline, flight insurance or booking agency. I've tried calling all places, several times. There is no getting the money back. I can however dump an extra $200 + additional cost of airfare to take a flight I don't need anymore to a place I don't want to go to (and can't afford to go to) in the next six months, if I so wish.
d) Help me just let it all go, if that's where I really should be focusing my energy.

The positives from all of this are helping somewhat...I do get to do some important things and attend some events that otherwise wouldn't get to (since I would have been out of the country). However, I keep thinking about the lack of concern by the school and missing out on this amazing experience. What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If your university has an ombudsman's office (and if it is any reasonable size, it almost certainly does) this is exactly the sort of situation that the office was intended to deal with, if not outright resolve.
posted by dersins at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2009


Escalate. Talk to the boss of the person responsible for making the decision. If you don't get satisfaction there, talk to their boss.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2009


You're sure you don't want to go to the city at all? If it were me, I'd scrape together a bare minimum of cash, re-schedule the flight for the summer and stay at Hostelling International for $15-20 per night and sample the local street food, backpacker style. What the hell, at least I'd have an excuse to see a new part of the world (albeit frugally). Just walking the city streets would be an adventure.

There's no point in fixating on what's not happening...grab the silver lining and see where it takes you. Get your replacement ticket and make some memories!
posted by aquafortis at 4:18 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there any way to do something in the vein of an independent study course with the professor? You'd get your credit hours, be able to qualify for student loans, and perhaps be able to salvage some academic/personal benefit from the trip.
posted by katemonster at 5:21 PM on June 10, 2009


The university should have been paying you back for the tickets anyway- grad students are often reimbursed for their research-expenses, either through general university travel funds or, more likely, through your advisor's funds. Why were you paying for this to begin with? (I just noticed that you're not a PhD student, so that might explain it-- but worth looking into anyway).

And, that said, your advisor should be the one taking on this fight, not you. Can you get him/her to help you out with contacting the right people in the right way?
posted by ohio at 6:57 PM on June 10, 2009


Take over the trip planning? It's no longer a "university" trip, it's a random group of friends taking a trip, doing an independent study, advised by a professor, and it just so happens to be in the place this prof has done a project for years and years? Even if the prof doesn't go, it could be cool.
posted by salvia at 10:27 PM on June 10, 2009


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