Who’s complacent? Penn State is complacent

The student “Outing Club,” which has gone backpacking, kayaking, and hiking in state parks over the course of its 98-year-existence, will no longer be allowed to host outdoor events after administrators conducted a risk assessment, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The types of activities in which [Penn State Outing Club] engages are above the university’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations,” according to an official announcement.

A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn’t an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times.

“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, told The Post-Gazette.

And yet the treasurer of the Outing Club said that he hadn’t heard of any injuries sustained on club outings in recent years.

Here is the full story at Reason, via Maximilian Roos.


I blame women. They seem to be getting better with this, though; free range kids, etc.

Well, Lisa Powers molests girls so that may have something to do with it. But apparently she only likes to do it indoors.

That's bad but has anyone noticed the tire fire over at Michigan State. Everyone called in to fix an already disastrous situation, including Engler, has doubled down and in fact made it worse.

Indeed, when I saw the headline my first thought was PSU's Sandusky-Paterno scandal and I wondered why talk about PSU instead of MSU?

But having seen what the article's really about, there's a solution. A commenter has already mentioned satellite phones but there's a cheaper better alternative: a Garmin Inreach (formerly made by DeLorme but Garmin bought the company a year or two ago). An Inreach is a satellite messenger -- it can send texts and emails but can't do voice. But it's much cheaper than a satellite phone, and offers much better coverage than a cell phone (most outing clubs go to places where there's no cell phone service so cell phones are useless).

Forget about bureaucracy, compliance, nanny states, etc.; an Inreach or other satellite messenger or PLB (personal locator beacon) is just a common sense device to have, for both solo hikers and groups.

The angle that Slocum mentioned about PSU's Outdoor Adventure's program trying to stifle competition is an interesting one. We could call this the Inreach test. An Inreach solves the communication problem. But if PSU still raises objections, then we can deduce that the true issue is monopoly vs competition.

Does the university-run 'Outdoor Adventure' program assiduously avoid cell-phone dead zones or carry a satellite phone or PLB? My guess would be no.

(I have a PLB, by the way, $200 with no subscription is cheap insurance. I know that when my wife and I are hiking out by ourselves in the back-country, if one of us ever broke an ankle, neither would be able to carry the other for miles, so having a PLB in the pack makes sense).

Carry a tourniquet and a Israeli bandage. Plenty of water and a good knife. We don't need no stinking PLB's and phones.

Couldn't they have just compromised and required a group member to carry a satellite phone on outings?

(The group shouldn't have had to do anything, of course.)

I had some young kids in the car and, when we drove down a mountain I told them: “See we’re going down, we’re going south”; and when we drove up “See we’re going up, we’re going north” and no one had a problem with that. That’s the sad state were in.

Maybe you should've taken the opportunity to explain to the young kids. But coming here to blog about it is a great alternative.

It behooves me to point out that nowhere did he say posting about it was the only action he took.

Part of me wants to ascribe this to the usual suspect: complacency. But another part of me -- the parent -- wants to acknowledge that young kids build up models of the world which are (eventually) tested and corrected.

Relative to the Reimann gradient you are going north when you go up, away from the center of the earth, but of course not if you're talking about magnetic north.

I used to lie unashamedly to my kids about many topics. I tried to make it so outrageous that it would be funny. I soon realized that they believed me pretty much all of the time and I was really filling their heads with nonsense that they would rely on and look like fools. Then they would someday realize that half of what I told them was nonsense and not believe anything I said. So I stopped and now try to be truthful, just varying the level of detail for age appropriateness.

Good job on the down/south thing, it will be awesome when they say that to their peers and try to defend it because someone they trust told them so.

Are you Calvin's dad?

Try the Boy Scouts USA - they still teach kids real skills, self reliance, and humble self-confidence. One of the first things they learn is first aid but most follow this up with further training. One of my sons has climbed all the mountains around the SF Bay Area, done numerous 10+ mile hikes, several backpacking trips, snow camping at high elevation, camping in the rain (I was there - ugh), and night mountain climbing. The non scout kids - I have two boys in high school - play video games all day, their moms drive them around everywhere, and are as soft as marshmallows.

I think after Sandusky they are just a little jumpy about the word 'outing'.

Too soon?

haha good one. You are one nutty lyin'.

That was my initial thought as well.

And it's the millennials fault that they are been "overprotected"?

Nope, they're just the ones who are manifesting the behaviors that Boomers and Xers - who certainly aren't going to point fingers at themselves - endowed them with.

Truly: where is media flattery when you need it?

Paging Tom Brokaw: "Boomers: The Sorriest Generation".

"A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn’t an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times."
That is why Coolidge was called Silent Cal.

hahaha very punny.

Bonus trivia: sadly, Silent Cal turned silent after the premature death of his adult son. He wasn't a sad sack before.

Those whom the gods love die early.

Actually it was Coolidge's 12 9r 13 year old son. He was playing tennis on the White House courts and got a blister, which became infected. In that pre-antibiotic era, he died within a few days. His dad was destroyed emotionally.

“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus...”

Football's more dangerous than hiking. You know what you need to do, PSU.

"Football, with Jerry Sandusky, is more dangerous than hiking."

There, fixed it for you.

Uh, not quite. Having Jerry Sandusky as your defensive coordinator is not more or less dangerous than having anyone else as your defensive coordinator, because once you're a college student, you do not fit his, ahem...demographic, anymore.

PSU had some kid break his neck in football a few years ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Taliaferro

When's the last time an Outdoor clubber suffered such a serious injury? Student safety is a pretty flexible threshold, it would appear, when there's money involved.

They're not going to let that woman make football decisions.

>Football, with Jerry Sandusky,

In fairness, thanks the NCAA imposed(!) fine probably did crimp their student activity budget.

I don't think it's actually hypocrisy. I'm sure the idiots that made this decision would love to shut down football. They just don't have that much influence.

For hiking, yes.

But one of the uses of a club like this is that they can typically provide gear that students don't have, like kayaks, canoes, large-capacity backpacks for multi-day trips, backpacking stoves, etc.

Maybe students who don't own a kayak can rent one somewhere, but not having club loaner kayaks makes the process more complicated and makes it a lot less likely that new people will get involved.

Whoops, meant to reply to below comment.

Can't they just pack their things and go hiking? Why do they need an official club to do stupid things?

Many colleges offer financial support to officially recognized student clubs. The Outing Club probably needed money to pay for vans to transport hikers to trailheads, provision of supplies, etc. They can pay for that on their own, but it will cost more without university funding.

Oh, I see. Thanks.

For hiking, yes.

But one of the uses of a club like this is that they can typically provide gear that students don't have, like kayaks, canoes, large-capacity backpacks for multi-day trips, backpacking stoves, etc.

Maybe students who don't own a kayak can rent one somewhere, but not having club loaner kayaks makes the process more complicated and makes it a lot less likely that new people will get involved.

Can all the interested parts chip in?

My university had a rec department that offered many different outdoor adventures for a small fee - I went rock climbing and back country cross country skiing several times. Not part of the curriculum.

Nope. You're missing the economic angle. Penn State isn't doing this because 'Safety', they're doing it because the Outing Club competes with their own staff-directed 'Outdoor Adventures' program (a more expensive program that is in the process of doubling its already higher prices):

Although the university operated Outdoor Adventures program runs trips to similar remote locations, Ms. Powers said the program’s staff and student leaders are better trained and more experienced.

The Outdoor Adventures trips also cost more. And that’s not a small thing for students, Mr. Waltz said.

The Outing Club collects a $20 dues payment at the beginning of a semester and then charges $5 to $10 for trips. Counting gear, food and gasoline, each participant would typically pay $25 per trip.

The cost of Outdoor Adventure trips bumped up from between $30 and $60 last year, to between $90 and $130 this year, Mr. Waltz said, and appeal to different participants.

This is a small example of using state power to crush competitors. Safety is a pretext, and everybody seems to be falling for it.

Interesting angle.

This. Exactly.

These activities are designed to foster loyalty to the University and cause misty memories in the future when alumni have fat checkbooks at donation time.

The same factor is behind the animus towards fraternities and sororities - it is a separate focus for loyalty and generosity. Provision of beer is just an unfair advantage.

It will have been worth if they save one person from a sunburn or heel blister.

What the heck!

I suppose next they'll save the little dears from binge-drinking; Tide pod eating; date rape; condom snorting; opioid overdose (my son's company's owner's 26 year-old son died of an OD this past Friday), eating Ramen noodles out of toilets.

Doesn't this smell of a liability insurance issue? Juries demand institutions take this role.

The football team, on the other hand, pays for its own insurance and then some.

The university has faced liability for Sandusky, et al. The cost to the university has not been covered by football program insurance.

Sad. I think most people's fear levels are properly tuned to prevent outdoor injury. Go ahead, learn a little land navigation, and go backpacking.

If they mean whitewater kayaking though, I would consider that serious business. More immediate deaths than "college sports."

There has to be something more to this.

See above about how the university has an apparent interest in removing a competitor.

It was inevitable. Since we've decided that words can hurt, just think what sticks and stones could do....

Go 'eff yourself, you dumb ol' mother 'effer.

See, that didn't hurt a bit, did it?

"Penn State is complacent"

Reason: "This wasn't an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times."

Complacency definitions:

1. a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

a feeling of calm satisfaction with your own abilities or situation that prevents you from trying harder: What annoys me about these girls is their complacency - they seem to have no desire to expand their horizons.

a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements.

The definition of complacency means a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, often combined with a lack of awareness of pending trouble or controversy.

Sooooo ... Penn State is absolutely not complacent, but Reason is the epitome of complacency: the era of Coolidge was as good as it ever needs to be.

But that means letting coaches molest kids was ok a few decades ago, maybe in Coolidge's day, so kids should continue to be molested today?

Trump in appointing DeVos seems to be signalling a desire for complacency with sexual abuse and hazing continued because what was accepted as ok in the past should be accepted as ok today in school environments.

The safety problem is that what is a small risk for an individual participants becomes a significant headache for administrators when compounded over thousands of people. In other words, say you have a 1 in ten thousand chance of being killed doing an activity, not really enough to deter you, but if you are an administrator when ten thousand people under your care, you are going to have a fatality to explain to the general public, your boss, insurers etc etc

When I was active in my university's Mountaineering Club, going on kayaking, climbing and walking trips pretty much every weekend during my undergraduate years, the club's few injuries occurred on campus as a result of alcohol and fooling around.

The only activity-based injury I recall in hundreds of weekends away was a one girl who broke her arm during the cycling leg of a ski-kayak-cycle-run race.

This club had been in operation for 90 years -- what evidence is there that legal liability worries became a problem just now in 2018? AND -- note that the university offers their own program (charging much higher fees) which run trips that involve the same activities, risks, and potential liabilities as the clubs that were shut down.

For some reason, I am thinking again of a verse from Isaiah that a friend shared this morning.

And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

Tyler, you missed the even better announcement regarding the Scuba Club.

"Now the scuba club has been granted a reprieve—but with a significant caveat: Nittany Divers Scuba is no longer allowed to organize scuba-diving trips.

"We will just serve as a special interest organization for scuba divers and people interested in scuba diving," group leader Alex Pulice tells Reason."


Idiotic Authoritarians love to tell others what to do or not to do.

Cell phones don't work under water.

Unfortunately, the PSU outing club isn't alone. The University of Wisconsin Outing Club mostly dodged a similar bullet. A risk assessment decided that the status quo was too risky, but the solution they came up with wasn't a ban; it was basically more nanny bureaucracy. Trips had to be pre-approved, restrictions were placed on who could lead trips, leaders sometimes required more training (like a wilderness first aid or first responder course), etc. Some of this was just codifying existing best practices, and it's good that the club didn't get shut down, but it is a burden that is changing the club's character --- and not for the better.

It's worse than I thought. From a current PSU outing club member:

"For every PSOC Trip this year, there must be one person on each trip with Wilderness First Aid certification in addition to CPR (which students pay for out of pocket), and another with CPR/AED/basic first aid certification (also paid out of pocket). Also, trips must submit full itinerary, emergency plans, and drivers must submit forms. This is all standard for club sports (other than the WFA cert which is PSOC specific)."


I learned to rock climb outdoors safely through a Penn State Outing Club course. I had some climbing experience, but taking the course was an excellent reassurance that I was doing things safely. The existence of the outing club makes students more safe, not less.

Also, I wanted to join the caving club but never had the time. If I remember correctly, the local caving club (Nittany Grotto) and the student caving club have joint meetings. The students can just join the local club, and there will be little impact.

But on the whole, discouraging outdoor activities is foolish especially with a campus in the middle of nowhere. I believe Bobby Knight referred to an away game at Penn State as a "camping trip".

Message from the Administration
Upon closing the Outing Club:
Go Back to Your Room and Smoke Pot.

By the way,
Who needs an administrator to organize an outdoor activity.

I don't know current status, but PSU was notorious for binge drinking a few years ago -- when they were named America's Top Party School, the radio show This American Life did a show on it.

Bates College, one of the "little Ivies" in Maine, also had outdoorsy problem reported last month ...

"An outdoor expedition that’s part of Bates College’s freshman orientation, and the student group that runs it, recently came under fire from one student critic who accused them of perpetuating “white privilege” and “prehistoric policies regarding gender.”

Writing in The Student, Geddes states that he knows many people who have “AESOP horror stories,” though he provides no specific examples. He claims that hiking trips organized by the group are “made entirely of microagressions,” and that he has heard of “queer first-years” who end up “surrounded by straight people making eyes at each other across canoes.”

“It’s easy to feel isolated and lost when you’re surrounded by people with nothing in common with you on a trip that you signed up for because you had to,” Geddes added, writing elsewhere that “to have an identity dissociated from a ‘hip,’ outdoorsy norm rooted in a Northeastern white understanding of self seems almost inconceivable by Bates’ orientation standards.”


That the university hid behind a spokesperson and declined to release the assessment makes me think this is likely the "risk" being mitigated.

Easy solution: don't be an official student organization. You maybe lose out on a little money and being listed in the "official" list of organizations, but I'm guessing the "Outing Club" doesn't often use university buildings for its activities. You can make up for being omitted from the "official" list of student organizations with a little extra advertising.

Not quite so easy. You probably won't be able to put up flyers on campus anywhere, or other wise advertise your presence. You likely won't be able to reserve a room to meet. If you have equipment (kayaks, for example) you won't be able to stash them in some unused university basement. It just makes things harder.

Some more college risk assessment: Kenyon College has shut down its mens and womens rugby clubs. Although this was not due to fear of injuries: the clubs have had 9 concussions this year. Some commenters suggested that the clubs may need to have better coaching to teach proper tackling technique (rugby is supposed to cause few concussions if people are tackling correctly).

Who has time for outings when there's studying to be done? Seriously, I didn't have time for camping trips.

Yes, but the entire point of clubs like this are for boys and girls to spend plenty of unsupervised time together.

This is the natural consequence of the baby boomer helicopter parenting and the daycare-let-the-authorities-solve-your-problems-for-you ethos. Throw in the litigious notion that there has to be a deep pocket to blame and this is what you get. Gone are the days of "rugged individualism".

The only tough Americans left are Mexicans. Thank God for Mexico. Keep your tired and huddled masses yearning for a freebee, we want the tough guys that run across the desert at night to work in construction and agriculture. By comparison, the the kids of the cognitive elite are delicate jelly donuts. No unsupervised walks in the woods for those weenies.

The evolution of institutional insanity.

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