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Higher education attempts to turn students into dodo birds
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Higher education, at one time, exposed you to new ideas and challenges, encouraged you to take risks, step out of your comfort zone, and equipped you to tackle life.

Now the apparent mantra that should be translated into Latin is, "we won't bruise your ego, won't force you out of your comfort zone, or risk you bruising your knee."

There's no other way to read the latest edict from institutions of higher learning that are hell-bent to prepare their charges for the real world by wrapping their bodies and minds in enough precautionary padding that it makes the Michelin Tire mascot look downright anorexic.

Penn State University has now decreed that a student outdoor recreation club that has been taking excursions into the wilderness for 98 years must now refrain from doing so because it's too dangerous out there.

Penn State conducted a "proactive risk assessment" based not on past history but on concerns that the wilderness is too high of a risk for 19- to 25-year-olds to venture due to poor or no cell service, being a long way from emergency services, and the fact they are in remote locations. No worries, though. Penn State plans to offer a University-led outdoors program that you can rest assured will be so cost-prohibitive that it will add another year of student debt load repayments,

In other words Henry David Thoreau, were he a Penn State student, would likely be prohibited from hiking to Walden Pond without a $150,000 a year professor in tow.

The assumption here is that the student run Penn State Outing Club - along with the Nittany Grotto Caving Club as well as the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club that also have been told to stop taking outdoor trips - can't be trusted to make wise decisions regarding their personal safety.

Too bad they don't show as much concern about the football players they use to help bring in the lion's share of $144 million in athletic department revenue that netted the university $5.3 million in 2016. There's plenty of evidence that life-long health issues await football players in the university run sports profit center. No such evidence was offered in the Penn State decision to pull the plug on student run outdoor trips.

Somehow if I was a parent of an adult kid whose safety is entrusted to Penn State the decision to require all outdoor trips to be under the watchful eyes of university personnel would make be worry given the history parents have of entrusting young boys to adult authority figures that supposedly met Penn State's exhaustive standards.

There was a time when student-run events such as outdoor trips were regarded a way of forging a young adult's mettle which in turn helps them take on academics and the rest of the world.

Students were unplugged and left to explore new worlds, learn and test limits, forge friendships and working relationships, and learn responsibility.

Now they can't even be disconnected from wireless service for fear they will meet certain death without being able to Google directions, download information on how to apply ointment to a bleeding scratch, or - horror of horrors - not being able to livestream their wilderness experience via social media.

And you wonder why a four-year university program didn't generate Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.

The aversion to risk is a malady sweeping many institutions of higher learning.

Exposure to ideas, theories, perspectives, or experiences that don't fit into their orderly neat little world that they believe divine providence invested in them as the only acceptable and right reality is viewed as blasphemy so much that students go on witch-hunts. It's just the same as Salem in 1692 except the pitch forks are social media campaigns designed not to engage, educate or reason but to destroy.

It also does no good to transform universities into an extension of helicopter parenting.

At some point people need to fend for themselves, to open their minds and hearts, and to really learn who they are.

It sounds corny but things like student planned trips into what qualifies today as the wilderness is part of how one learns to fly. Is there danger out there? Absolutely. Can it be frightening? Yes. Will you make mistakes? It is arguably the best way to learn.

You will notice that in 98 years no one that's a student from Penn State has basically gone into the wilderness on a student organized trip without making preparations so they can return. And, yes, they may be cavalier about some preparations but the first time they become dinner for a thousand mosquitoes rest assured the next time they venture out they will pack the insect repellent.

The point is higher education is supposed to lift you into flight to tackle life.

It's by far better to come out a bird that has the knowledge and experience to survive even if they are missing a feather or two than to have a university evolve students into the human equivalent of the dodo bird.

It goes without question the bird that can fly is going to have a better chance of surviving and thriving in life than a bird such as the dodo that is basically earthbound.

If you think living life without daring the unpredictable thermals that are out there is wise you might want to check to see how that turned out for dodo birds.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.