December 12, 2007 Your Monthly Source of Community Service-Learning News VOL. 5, NO. 3

Service Learning – Managing Risk
Joseph C. Risser, CPCU
Director, Risk Management
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly’s Community Center has taken a leading role in facilitating the implementation of Service Learning assignments in the San Luis Obispo and surrounding communities. 

In my role as Director of Risk Management at Cal Poly, I advise the staff of the Community Center as they work with faculty and students, University Contracts and Procurement Services staff, and community agencies to develop Service Learning placements for students to engage with the community. In a similar manner, I advise academic programs which assign students to local businesses, schools, city and county government entities for internships and student teaching. All these programs place students in a “learn by doing” experiential education environment; enriching the classic academic education as well as contributing to the larger community.

The Risk Management Policy at Cal Poly assigns the financial risk for losses related to Service Learning and other academic placements in “host” entities off campus to the Program Manager (Vice President and/or College Dean). My primary role is to advise the Program Managers and their faculty and staff members in their management of their activities and operations so as not to impose an unreasonable risk of loss or injury.

My advice to faculty and staff is to utilize the materials and procedures in the CSU’s Best Practices for Managing Risk in Service Learning Manual to both prevent injuries and damages which can lead to liability claims and to establish written agreements which assign responsibility for risks and resulting losses, should they occur. In this way we also protect Cal Poly’s division and colleges, faculty, staff and students from the costs of claim investigation, litigation and judgments or settlements related to academic assignments in Service Learning, internships and student teaching.

With several placements, I have had the opportunity to assist faculty and staff in working directly with “host” agencies, usually to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the University and the “host” agency with respect to liability and medical expenses for injured students.  I’ve found that when I have been able to talk to the person responsible for the management of risk within the “host” entity that we can often expedite the development of a written agreement satisfactory to both the University and the “host”.  There are agencies and businesses which have, what I believe to be, rather unrealistic expectations that the University is going to take on responsibility for the actions of a student placed in their facility, under their direction and performing work from which the ‘host” entity benefits. 


I continue to hear from local agencies where Cal Poly places students: “We couldn’t get our work done without your students.” I believe we have two significant risk management tools to work with “host” entities who believe that the University should provide insurance for the students placed with them as Service learners, interns or student teachers.  The Student Professional Liability Insurance Program (SPLIP) and Student Academic Field Experience Credited Liability Insurance Program (SAFECLIP) can provide primary liability coverage for the University, faculty and staff, student and the “host” entity when there is an appropriate written agreement between the University and the agency.  These tools enable a wider variety of and more placement opportunities to support Cal Poly’s diverse academic programs with “hands on” experience in the field.

System Wide Risk Management is also exploring the options for development of a program to address medical expenses of students injured during academic placements such as Service Learning, internships and student teaching. Such a program could enable agreements for academic placements with agencies which choose not to provide workers’ compensation coverage for our students. In my experience, agencies appropriate for Service Learning placements and which operate primarily with community volunteers may not have workers’ compensation insurance programs. A program which could fund medical expenses for our students could also enable a wider variety and additional placement opportunities.

Our Contract and Procurement Services staff really helped out in encouraging and processing multi year agreements with “host” agencies to cut down on repetitive paper work and processing for all concerned. This helps the faculty and the students focus on the experience of Service Learning, internships and student teaching assignments to enrich the academic coursework, add to the students’ knowledge base and increase their skills while providing valuable services to the community. 

Developing each placement involves challenges and needs to be carefully evaluated for the benefit to the academic program, mission of the university, and  risk to the responsible department or program. Fortunately, the collaboration between Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Administration and Finance at our campus continues to provide these opportunities for students to “learn by doing”. Advising the Community Center staff as they manage the risks of Service Learning placements to protect the university, our faculty, staff and students without unduly curtailing or modifying the activities necessary to the CSU mission is a very satisfying part of my job at Cal Poly.

Questions?For ideas, comments, or questions
about editorial content, e-mail Season Eckardt at

Review past issues at the CSU Impact Archives.
Visit the CSL website.

Subscription Information: To subscribe, send an e-mail to and in the message body, insert the following with your first and last name: subscribe csuimpact firstname lastname. To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to and in the message body, insert: unsubscribe csuimpact.