Colleges’ insane effort to keep students perfectly safe

A prominent American college is instituting policies that make helicopter parents look like satellites. And it’s the next step in American academia’s total abandonment of common sense.

Penn State’s Student Affairs and Risk Management offices recently determined that hiking, kayaking, canoeing and camping trips are too dangerous for unattended students, so the school’s Outing Club is no longer allowed to pit themselves against the wilderness.

While the school’s spokesperson says that “student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Penn’s hypocritical zeal is actually robbing students of important learning experiences and freedoms that prepare them for life after college, and it serves as a lesson to parents and colleges everywhere.

Penn State’s sports programs seem more likely to hurt students than camping trips and kayaking. If the college really wanted to protect students, it would stop them from playing football or rugby or basketball. Just this past February, Penn State basketball player Mike Watkins injured his knee playing against Michigan and couldn’t play in the Big Ten tournament in March.

The Outing Club, however hasn’t had any injuries in recent years, despite its so-called “dangerous” activities.

Therefore, by Penn’s own logic, the men’s basketball team should be disbanded — along with ice hockey and boxing clubs.

If the school is worried about its own liability, then it should make Outing Club members sign a waiver saying they won’t sue the school in the event of an injury. This allows students to take responsibility and understand the risks before trekking into the wilderness.

And because college students are adults, they won’t even need a guardian’s signature.

But it’s possible to see where Penn is coming from, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it do everything it can to keep students safe?

Absolutely not. If it wanted absolute safety, it would lock all the undergraduates indoors and cover everything in foam and pillows. If safety is a college’s primary focus, then it’ll look more like a nursery than an institution of higher learning.

Penn State does, however, allow students to go on adventures accompanied by staff in the Outdoor Adventures program — a well-supervised field trip, if you will.

School officials don’t seem to understand that one of the fundamental parts of life is learning how to live it by yourself, and forcing legal adults to go outside only when supervised by other adults makes no sense. Young adults won’t be ready to tie the knot or start a business if they can’t cross the street.

Making campus look like a kindergarten keeps college kids physically safe, but it also prevents their minds from growing up — far greater harm than most camping accidents can cause. Ironically, Penn’s “safety first” stance sets a dangerous precedent for colleges to act the part of playpens that produce weak-minded individuals.

Camping and kayaking and other outdoor activities are excellent ways to hone real-life organizational and planning skills, while campers take responsibility for their own safety and watch out for other campers.

In Israel, 18-year-olds must join the army and by 22 they often have soldiers under their command, lives for which they are accountable as well as their own. Yet Penn says that even the risk of injury from camping on the weekends is too great.

Such “safety first” policies patronize young people and prevent them from growing as individuals by grasping responsibility and allowing some exposure to risk. That, in itself, is dangerous: The schools will soon spit these students out into the world, except with no training outside a few textbooks.

Furthermore, the decision is practically un-American: Our nation was founded on taming the wilderness and surviving on the frontier. To deny students the ability to mimic in a very small way what our ancestors did in the extreme shows how far from our origins we have fallen.

Those who founded the Outing Club almost 100 years ago would no doubt be appalled by the school’s decision to protect students from their own development in the wilderness. No one should be fooled into thinking that Penn’s “safety first” policies pass for education — it’s babysitting.

This approach means students will graduate unprepared for life, and Penn has failed to be a place of development. Which means, in the long run, no one is a happy camper.

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