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Student petition for lecturer’s compassionate travel exemption successful

The lecturer will leave the University in July.

A student petition has helped convince the University of Sydney to allow a maths lecturer to travel overseas on compassionate grounds.

Dr Emily Cliff, the lecturer for MATH1002 Linear Algebra, approached the School of Mathematics in February, saying she would need to travel to the US for family reasons.

However, in March, the University denied the School’s request for a compassionate exemption to the University’s prohibition on international travel, stating that the COVID-19 situation in the US remained dangerous.

Cliff told Honi on Wednesday that the University initially asked if she was willing to resign, despite the fact that all her work for the course could be done remotely.

The University confirmed that Cliff was granted the exemption on Thursday morning after reconsidering her case.

Cliff said she was “grateful” for the exemption, but that “the uncertainty has affected my students, my colleagues, and me.”

Cliff will leave the University in July for “a new employment opportunity.”

Gabrielle King, a student in Cliff’s course, was motivated to start the petition, which had garnered over 480 signatures as of Thursday evening.

“As most of my family and my boyfriend lives overseas, I know how difficult it can be to be separated for a long time with no definite end in sight,” said King.

“As many students are given the option to study online from overseas, I find it is unfair that the same option is not extended to lecturers … these are exceptional circumstances which call for exceptional measures.”

The University does not allow work-related international travel due to austerity measures introduced in 2020.

According to information on the staff intranet, staff seeking an exemption to the prohibition need to write a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, including a travel approval form, a risk assessment and an airfare quote. The prohibition does not provide for compassionate reasons as a basis for exemption.

The University does not have a policy that governs how they decide on exemptions to the prohibition. A University spokesperson said they are “considering requests to work remotely from overseas on a case-by-case basis,” saying that various employment, tax and visa laws “pose additional complexities … which can take time.”

Cliff sent requests for further information about the University’s exemption which were never answered. “This may well be because the policies are still being worked out, but the lack of transparency has been troubling,” Cliff said.