Penn State University has decided to reinvent its 98-year-old “Outing Club” after determining that the club’s open-air hiking activities exceed the school’s “threshold of acceptable risk” for students.
After school administrators conducted a risk assessment of different groups on campus, they ordered the club to cease its outdoor events, having determined that the types of activities in which the club engages “are above the University’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”
Founded in 1920, the student-run Penn State Outing Club (PSOC) has been dedicated to “experiencing the outdoors in every possible capacity.” Over the years, the PSOC has organized activities for members ranging from backpacking, to kayaking, to canoeing, to hiking in state parks “from the Catskills to California.
These activities have now been found to be too risky for Penn State students and can no longer be offered by the Outing Club.
“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Ms. Powers said that, according to the “proactive risk assessment” conducted by the University, PSOC activities were rated high-risk because they take place in remote environments with poor cell phone service and sometimes far from emergency services.
PSOC leadership expressed its consternation over the decision and the way that the evaluation was carried out.
“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” Richard Waltz, PSOC’s current president said. “What’s happening to the club is a shame and negatively impacts the student experience.”
Timothy Hackett, PSOC’s treasurer, said the club did not participate in the risk assessment and has not seen the finished report, while he also noted that he is unaware of any student injuries on any Outing Club trips over the four years he has been at the school.
Two other student groups also got the axe as a result of the risk assessment, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, who were similarly told to end trip offerings.
University officials are holding “ongoing” discussions with the club’s leadership to explore a possible makeover for the group from a nature-exploring organization to a film-watching club.
According to Waltz, the discussions are focused on the possibility of “forming a different kind of club,” one that still holds film festivals and hosts speakers but can no longer lead students on hikes in the woods.
“The groups are being disbanded in their current high-risk model and are actually being re-organized to provide more oversight of activities by trained and professional staff,” Lisa Powers told Fox News.
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