Penn State says wilderness is too risky for outdoors clubs
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A near-century-old outdoor recreation club will now refrain from going outside because it is too dangerous out in the wilderness, according to officials at Penn State University.
The Penn State Outing Club, originally founded in 1920, announced last week that the university will no longer allow the club to organize outdoor, student-led trips starting next semester. The hiking, camping and other outdoors-focused activities the student-led club has long engaged in are too risky, the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management determined.
Richard Waltz, the Outing Club’s current president, said that the decision was made by an office that never consulted them.
The decision was based on a two-month review that didn’t include consultation with student leaders at any of the clubs deemed too risky, according to students.
Two other outdoor recreation clubs — the spelunking Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club — also have been directed to end trip offerings.
“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” Waltz said.
Christina Platt, the Outing Club’s incoming president, said, “I can hardly blame Penn State for protecting itself against further litigation after a number of high-profile scandals in the past decade.”
Student safety is the school’s primary focus, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in a statement.
Penn State conducted a “proactive risk assessment” not based on any previous participant injuries, according to Powers. She said Outing Club activities were rated high risk because they take place in remote environments with poor cell service and distance from emergency services.
Penn State still will offer a university-operated outdoors trip program, Powers said. The university-run program also costs much more for students, Waltz contended.
Michael Lacey, president of the Caving Club, told the Centre Daily Times he’s not surprised by the decision but says the university’s reasons for ending the club trips don’t make sense to him.
There’s a difference between going with somebody you paid to take you on a trip and going with a bunch of your friends, Lacey said.
Powers said Penn State staff members are meeting with student leaders about the transition and how the university might still support each group’s goals.