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Report finds UW students treated poorly during study abroad trip

A report released last week found that a group of UW students was mistreated on a summer 2007 study abroad program to Ghana, according to independent investigator Ellen Lenhart.

Lenhart, who began the investigation during autumn quarter, reinforced earlier student claims that the UW instructor who led the trip to rural Ghana had improperly handled complaints concerning illnesses, lack of food and poor content of lectures.

Linda Iltis, the lecturer in charge of the trip, refuted the report claims, and instead blamed the nongovernmental organization for many of the problems on the trip.

“The report is seriously flawed, incomplete and full of factual inaccuracies,” Iltis wrote in an e-mail.

Additionally, the report claimed that Iltis’ husband, Ter Ellingson, an adjunct professor of anthropology, misbehaved during the trip. At one point, he reportedly called the students “imperialists” during a student’s visit to a clinic.

Students will not be refunded in full, which was a previous request from the students. The students, however, did receive $2,500 in February from the UW.

Lenhart propped up the students’ stature in the investigation by assuaging earlier claims that the students were somehow ill prepared for the trip.

“I do not conclude that it was physical or emotional weakness, or unrealistic expectations, or lack of strength of character among these students that was the underlying cause of the program’s failure,” Lenhart wrote in the report.

Lenhart found that many of the problems involved with the trip emerged from a severe breakdown in communication among the students, instructor and the nongovernmental organization.

While Lenhart said she did believe the students bore the brunt of the impact from the problems, she did find some merit in Iltis’ explanations.

The trip was originally planned as a study of sustainable development in the rural town of Hain, a small town in Ghana. Seventeen students were on the trip, which ended earlier than expected after the UW administration canceled the program.

UW administrators have used the outcomes of this program as well as the outcomes of the investigative report to alter how they assess study abroad program proposals. Faculty leading these programs now are also supposed to undergo more intensive training and preparation before departing for their trips.

Whether there will be any punishment for Iltis or Ellingson is a personnel matter handled internally by the UW administration. Deans in the College of Arts and Sciences claimed that any disciplinary action would follow procedures already in place at the University.

The UW also plans to internally deal with Iltis’ and Ellingson’s complaints about the content of the report.

“If any party chooses to contest any of the conclusions in the report, the University would also follow its established procedures for dealing with such situations,” wrote Judith A. Howard, divisional dean of social sciences, and Robert C. Stacey, divisional dean of arts and humanities, in an e-mail.

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