Here’s an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer (thanks to several readers for calling this situation to my attention). Click on the screenshot to read the piece about PSU (Pennsylvania State University) and its new decision.
What happened? Here’s the skinny:
A backpacking trip in the Rothrock State Forest and day hikes in the Laurel Highlands and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia were among the Penn State Outing Club’s 2018 spring-term events.
After this weekend, though, the 98-year-old organization has nothing on its calendar, and unless things change, it won’t.
The Outing Club isn’t allowed to go outside anymore.
According to an announcement posted by the club on its website last week, the university will not allow the club to organize and run outdoor, student-led trips starting next semester.
“This is a result,” the announcement said, “of an assessment of risk management by the university that determined that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the university’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”
After a two-month review that did not include consultation with student Outing Club leaders, the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management made the determination that the hiking, canoeing, kayaking, trail building and camping activities the student-led club has long engaged in are too risky. The club is one of the oldest entirely student-run organizations at Penn State.
. . . The other two outdoor recreation organizations, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, were also judged too risky and directed to end trip offerings. Club sports that passed the risk review include the Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club.
Note that the decision didn’t involve any of the students, and, worse, the University won’t even tell the students why they nixed the outings. Is it getting more dangerous out there? I suspect not.
“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State University spokeswoman, said in an email response to questions about the school’s assessment.
Ms. Powers said the university conducted reviews of all campus recreation-supported student groups — 76 sport and three outdoor recreation organizations — to evaluate student safety risks and produce assessment reports. She declined to provide a copy of the assessment report for the Outing Club, saying it is not a public document.
This is ludicrous and embarrassing, especially in view of PSU’s refusal to consult with the clubs and come clean about its decision.
Of course none of us know what really happened, but I think this is a result of universities increasingly deciding they really have to act in loco parentis since students are increasingly becoming consumers; the university thinks that the consumers must be safe. In this case, however, the University— probably afraid of being sued—made the decision against the wishes of the students. The University is, in effect, acting as a Big Helicopter Parent, trying to shield its charges from all possible harm.
Most of us older folk have noticed this on a parental scale. Kids aren’t allowed to play on their own anymore—not without a parent watching. When I got home from grade school, or wanted to do stuff on the weekend, I’d just get on my bike and ride off on my own, sometimes not even telling my parents where I was going. That was when I was ten years old or so. Everybody played unsupervised then, but it’s unthinkable now, despite children actually being safer in today’s world. So if the world is safer, what is Penn State’s beef? Why, in a safer world, do colleges want even more supervision? You tell me.
Regardless, the students don’t like it one bit:
On a Penn State Reddit site, and the Outing Club’s Facebook page, reports of the university’s decision to shut down the club’s outings were derided by many as hypocritical.
Some of more than 80 Reddit posters wondered if the school will shut down its highly ranked men’s and women’s rugby teams, full-contact club street hockey, and even football because they were risky and potentially injurious.