vol 104 -- March 27
Legal worries mean changes for SFU's Outdoors
For years the SFU Outdoors Club has been offering interested students free kayak-rolling classes, free mountain-climbing tips, cheap equipment rentals and the chance to take to the mountains with a group of like-minded fellow students as part of a semesterly kickoff weekend. But not any more.
The university's Risk Management department has been going over the policies concerning the programs in Recreational Services and Athletics, and has decided that new regulations are in order. Currently, Outdoors Club trips just feature regular, experienced club members as teachers, but from now on, all trips must be staffed by certified instructors, which can cost up to $100 per person per day.
In addition, the club will no longer be able to offer students cheap equipment rentals, since the university-run Outdoor Recreation Centre has decided that renting out equipment is just too risky.
The members of the Outdoors Club are very upset at what they see as an attempt by the university to shut down a very popular club.
"What happens now if you join up, you get the gear at a cheap rate, you get some free instruction, and you get the social aspects," says Michael Coyle, a past president and current member of the Outdoors Club. "You take away the gear, you take away the free instruction, and all you've got left are the social aspects. Why would anyone pay $10 or $20 for that? What they've done is make it impossible for the club to exist as it exists now."
But Peter Koci of Recreational Services and Athletics defends the university's position: "It's not about trying to get rid of the Outdoors Club. I myself am an avid outdoorsman and I think it's great that there's a club for it up at SFU. We don't want to shut them down by any means, but we need to look at how we can decrease our risk and liability and still maintain a program."
Koci says tougher regulations weren't necessary in the past because ten or twenty years ago, the university was a lot less likely to be sued.
"Nowadays, the courts are saying, there's a kid that's been in a catastrophic accident, maybe they're a quadriplegic or something, and somebody's gotta pay. And they don't care whose fault it is, it's just like, well, they were involved with SFU, and SFU has a big insurance policy, so SFU's gonna pay. . . . That's the way society has become. It's really the courts that have created this problem and we're just trying to react."
Other athletic and recreation programs, like football or lacrosse, have to follow the same rules, Koci said. The university wanted to bring the clubs in line too.
But Outdoors Club members say forcing them use expensive instructors and equipment will take away the advantages they were able to give students, and may kill the club.
"For one thing, [the instruction and rentals] were cheap enough that students could afford them," says Steve Cullingworth, an SFU graduate and former club member. "I think people trying things for the first time feel more comfortable, less intimidated, being taught by another student, as opposed to someone from outside who's older. Also, you got to get to know people from your own school. Now you'll have to go with a professional tour guide company and it just won't be the same."
But Koci insists that, in the current Outdoors Club, the risks outweighed the benefits. The university feels it's just too dangerous to have someone learning a dangerous skill for the first time without a qualified instructor present, and fellow club members should not be allowed to teach without proper certification.
"I don't understand it myself," says Coyle, "because people rent gear all over town and people teach all over town and they don't have problems. You just sign your waivers and you're set. Basically, if you go on an SFU Outdoors Club trip you're not supposed to learn anything. It's a total joke."
In Outdoors Club mailing-list e-mails, members have joked that participants should sign a waiver promising not to learn anything when they go on Outdoors Club trips, and another waiver promising to forget anything they may have accidentally learned when they get home.
But the organizations that teach all over Vancouver are certified. Koci says the university is looking into helping the club form partnerships with certified organizations, and maybe getting some funding for them.
But the Outdoors Club is currently researching its options on its own right now.
They are looking at becoming an independent society, like the Burnaby Outdoors Club, but say they would rather keep their affiliation with the university.
One possibility, says Coyle, is that of trying to become a university society like The Peak, CJSF or SFP!RG, institutionalized as part of the university with the guarantee of an office, and revenue from student fees, etc.
But for now, Coyle says, "We'll still go on trips with people from the Outdoors Club and do them the same way, we just won't call them official Outdoors Club trips. But it will be a lot harder to get new people involved."
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