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University explains program cancellation

Duke canceled this fall's Duke in the Andes study abroad program because of a State Department travel warning, Assistant Dean and Director of Study Abroad Margaret Riley said.

The 15 participants in the program--seven of whom are Duke students--are being evacuated from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, as rioting and political instability continues in the capital city of La Paz.

The decision to cancel the program came late Thursday, shortly after the State Department issued a warning that urged Americans with access to transportation to immediately leave the country. A warning was also issued against travel to Bolivia.

"The Department of State travel warning was ultimately the deciding factor," Riley said. "In accordance with our standard procedures, such a definitive statement from them could not be ignored. Our risk management office and other University administrators agreed."

The current Bolivian political situation is most precarious in La Paz, the capital city, where the Duke in the Andes program is based. Rioting has interrupted public transportation, including air travel, and caused a shortage of goods.

Students left La Paz about a week ago for a trip to Santa Cruz, but could not return as scheduled last weekend because of the strife in the capital city. Their departure from the country was complicated by the fact that many of their belongings--including passports--remained in La Paz.

The quandary was solved by officials in the Office of Study Abroad, who arranged for "authorization to travel" letters to be written for the students through the U.S. Consulate's Office in Santa Cruz, with assistance from the Consular Affairs Overseas Office in Washington, D.C.

Once it is safe to do so, program officials will return to La Paz and arrange to have the students' belongings packed and sent back to the United States.

It is currently unknown exactly when the students will leave and whether they will be able to earn credit for the courses they were taking. The program began Aug. 7. A decision has not yet been made about whether to also cancel the spring Duke in the Andes program, for which 22 students have applied.

Riley said the decision to cancel the fall program was a difficult one. "We had been hoping that the troubles would dissipate," she said.

"But these troubles have been building for weeks."

Junior Jessica West, a former Chronicle photographer, wrote in an Oct. 17 letter to President Nan Keohane and other University officials that they should reconsider the decision to cancel the program. She wrote that Santa Cruz was secure and far removed from La Paz, and that they should be allowed to attend the university in Santa Cruz for at least one more week.

As of now, however, it looks like West and her fellow students from the Andes will be heading home.

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