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Pitt Drops Sponsorship of Semester at Sea

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PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh dropped its sponsorship of the Semester at Sea program, citing concerns about safety months after startled students were tossed around by a huge wave in the Pacific.

The nonprofit Institute for Shipboard Education, which operates the program, responded with a lawsuit against the university Friday, saying the pullout violates Pitt's contract and may cause irreparable harm to the floating, study-abroad program.

In January, a 50-foot wave temporarily disabled a Semester at Sea ship, injuring two crew members and tossing hundreds of people around. The ship, the Explorer, had 990 people aboard, including nearly 700 students. It later limped into Honolulu Harbor for repairs.

In a letter to the institute's chief executive officer, John Tymitz, Pitt Provost James Maher cited several factors, including unresolved issues regarding the deaths of five participants in a bus accident during an India trip in 1996.

Maher also wrote the university was concerned with the ship used in the winter voyage and the program's decision to visit Kenya this year despite a U.S. State Department travel advisory.

"We found ourselves in the position of a frustrated spouse who has tried to keep the marriage going but in the end has to accept that it's over," university spokesman Robert Hill said.

Les McCabe, the institute's president, said he was displeased the relationship with Pitt ended, but "we will continue to provide safe voyages with another university partner." He would not identify the school.

McCabe said its ship was assessed by marine experts and found to be in full compliance with safety regulations.

Students from hundreds of colleges attend Semester at Sea, but the program has been sponsored by Pitt for more than 20 years, and the Institute for Shipboard Education is based there.

The lawsuit comes just before the program's next nine-week trip is to scheduled to get under way, with departure from Nova Scotia on June 17. Hill said the university's decision will not affect that trip.

The Semester at Sea program has taken students to countries including Vietnam, China and Cuba. The program was founded in California in 1963 as the University of the Seven Seas.

Source - Washington Post, The Associated Press

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