Questions on Temple’s Evacuation of U.S students from Tokyo

I taught at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan, in the spring of 2005. Like all of my colleagues who have done the same, I found it to be a very worthwhile and professionally rewarding experience. So it is with personal sympathy and concern that I have been following events in Japan and the circumstances confronting my colleagues and our students at Temple University Japan.

No doubt it was a difficult decision for Temple University to announce on Thursday its plan to evacuate U.S. students from TUJ. I am not privy to any of the many factors that must have gone into making that decision.

But I find myself wondering about that decision for a couple of reasons. First, I’m wondering why the decision to evacuate was limited to U.S. students studying at TUJ. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, TUJ’s undergraduate students are 40% American, 42% Japanese, and 18% from more that 60 other nationalities. If there’s a radiation threat to students at TUJ, why wouldn’t we offer to evacuate all the students, and not just the Americans?

If there was a comparable threat to students on main campus in Philadelphia warranting the evacuation of students, wouldn’t we want all the students evacuated? Or would we just evacuate our American students and let our foreign students fend for themselves?

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Second, I’m wondering, if there was some reason for evacuating only the American students from TUJ, why TUJ didn’t simply refer our American students to the U.S. Embassy’s evacuation flights from Tokyo? Wouldn’t that have been an easier and faster response than trying to arrange our own evacuation charter flight?

On the vast scale of the human tragedy in Japan, these may seem like minor questions. But this experience will certainly shape our decisions and responses to the unexpected events that we will inevitably confront in the future. Crisis management planning will require us to consider and evaluate what we did right, and how we could have done better.

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