Evergreen professor on leave in wake of school trips to Chile
Rebecca Moorman says the first clue that something was amiss with her field trip to Chile came when her professor at The Evergreen State College insisted her payment of more than $3,000 be deposited into his bank account. On Wednesday, a lawyer announced that Moorman and 12 other students on the monthlong 2008 trip are getting a partial refund, while the professor has been placed on administrative leave.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
Rebecca Moorman says the first clue that something was amiss with her field trip to Chile came when her professor at The Evergreen State College insisted her payment of more than $3,000 be deposited into his bank account.
A subsequent audit by the Olympia university, aided with information that Moorman gathered, revealed that she and 14 other students paid $70 a day for dormitory-style beds and food that should have cost just $14 a day. Some of the money went to a Chilean sanitation company, owned by relatives of the professor, that provided the accommodations, the audit said.
The audit released earlier this year also found that the professor, Jorge Gilbert, can't account for at least $50,000 he collected from students and Evergreen for other Chilean trips since 2005, and that students first began raising concerns about his trips' finances in 1998.
Attorney Brent Normoyle announced Wednesday that Moorman and 12 other students on the monthlong 2008 trip have settled with Evergreen. After legal fees are deducted, each student will get back $1,350 of the $2,100 they paid for living expenses.
Normoyle said the settlement was negotiated without filing a lawsuit.
Evergreen spokesman Jason Wettstein said Gilbert, who teaches Latin American studies and who has been on the Evergreen faculty 20 years, has been placed on administrative leave this quarter pending the outcome of university disciplinary proceedings. The college also is exploring options for recovering the $50,000, Wettstein added.
Gilbert could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The purpose of the trip was to study the root causes of underdevelopment and the effects of colonization, Moorman said. The students were supposed to visit farms and fisheries to witness Chile's contribution to the world market.
Moorman, 23, who was a senior at Evergreen in 2008 and has since graduated, said she found it odd to be depositing cash into her professor's account, but she trusted him and Evergreen.
More red flags went up when the travel agency chosen by Gilbert went bankrupt shortly before the trip, forcing some students to buy a second ticket, for which they later received refunds.
Once in Chile, Moorman said, the students were housed in a hostel-like facility, with three or four living in each room and sharing a bathroom. It wasn't bad, she says, just not what they'd been promised.
Moorman also said the program lacked enough organized study activities.
"When you get a group of students together in a place with cheap alcohol and a lot of down time — well, you can guess what happens," she said. "It wasn't as structured as we'd hoped for. It's not what we thought we were getting."
Evergreen's audit said the students were given "very basic" meals and required to pay for transportation and other expenses.
"In the month the students were in Chile, they only went on one trip to the north," the audit said, and didn't receive any refund or explanation for the cancellation of an expected second trip to the south.
The state conducted its own audit in July and agreed with the university's findings.
After the monthlong trip ended, Moorman said, she stayed on in Chile with her boyfriend, as they had planned. She learned far more about the country during that period, she said, including a realization of just how much they'd been overcharged.
When she returned, she said, she provided Evergreen with all sorts of documents about the trip, and tried in vain for nearly six months to get a refund, before turning to a lawyer who also agreed to represent the other students.
"I just don't think the college took me seriously," she said. "It was very disappointing. I really liked Evergreen, but that's kind of a sore spot for me."
Wettstein, the university spokesman, said it was always Evergreen's intent to refund the students. "Sometimes things don't work out as quickly as you'd like when you are dealing with a state agency," he said.
The university has tightened its cash-handling procedures as a result of the audit, he added.
Moorman, meanwhile, says that before the trip, she was unsure of her career path. Now she's made up her mind: She's applying to law school.
"The whole process was not fun," she said. "But when I started doing research, I was almost having a good time. I realized I'd probably enjoy doing it for other people — if not necessarily for myself."
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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