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.