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Risk Management

Note: Requirements for Service-Learning Students

  • Academic departments housing service-learning courses are responsible for overseeing risk management compliance measures associated with these experiences. Faculty teaching service-learning courses should also familiarize themselves with their community partner organization organization’s requirements for volunteers. Service-learning students must comply with both community partner organization requirements as well as requirements set forth by Office of Service-Learning and the college, department, or program housing the service.
  • Some service-learning courses involving minors MAY be considered “Covered Programs” under the University of Tennessee System Safety Policy SA0575 (Programs for Minors Policy). If so additional requirements apply. Contact Brian Browning, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services, at 974-3061 or with any questions about the policy.
  • Some academic departments and/or community organizations require pre-service screening measures such as background checks, drug tests, or sex offender registry checks for service-learning students. If the department or college housing the course currently has requirements and/or processes in place for screening students, instructors should observe these requirements and utilize these processes. If screening processes are required by the community partner organization and the home department/college does not have an existing process in place for overseeing screenings and addressing findings, the instructor should acquire permission from the department head prior to confirming the partnership with the organization. The Service-Learning Initiative team is available for consultation with instructors and departments/colleges on how to establish a process to oversee screenings and address findings.

*Policies regarding Risk Management at the University of Tennessee are subject to change. The Office of Service-Learning will strive to stay abreast of policy developments affecting service-learning faculty, staff, and students, and to post such developments on this webpage.


Given that there are a number of risks involved in sending students out into the community, is it important to be intentional about minimizing and managing these risks. Risk management is defined by Young and Tomski (2002) as  “the formal process by which an organization establishes its risk management goals and objectives, identifies and analyzes its risks, and selects and implements measures to address its risks in an organized fashion.”

Risk management does not need to be intimidating. Many risks can be prevented through purposeful planning and preparation. By integrating risk prevention and management into your service-learning planning process, you can help ensure everyone involved has a safer, more enjoyable experience.

Three steps you can take to effectively manage risks associated with service learning are to: 1) identify risks and liabilities, 2) evaluate and prioritize risks, and 3) take actions to manage risks. Consider the information below as you move through this process.

1). Identify risks and liabilities

Ask yourself the following questions as you begin planning your students’ service-learning experience:

    • What are the potential risks to service-learners of engaging in the service-learning activities?
    • What are the potential risks to service-learners of having contact with the agency clients?
    • What are potential risks to service-learners of traveling to and from their homes, the campus, and the agency?
    • What are the potential risks to agency staff and clients of having student service-learners on-site?
    • Have previous service-learners encountered any risks involving this activity or agency in the past?
    • How will I inform service-learners of the risks associated with their chosen activities, and how to mitigate these risks?
    • How will I ensure that service-learners are aware of and adhere to the terms of the MOC plan for the duration of their service project?

2). Evaluate and prioritize risks

Consider the risks you identified in the above step, and prioritize them into high or low risk levels. Consider the level of vulnerability of the students and those they will be in contact with, the location and conditions of the organizational site, the nature of the work the students will be engaged in, and the level of supervision they will have.

3). Manage risks

A good rule of thumb is to avoid any activity or situation that is too risky. Retain low risk activities or modified versions of high risk activities (which make them less risky).

Examples of ways risks can be reduced include the following*:

  • Site visits: Visit the community organization site both prior to the service-learning experience and during times your students are there, to gain first-hand knowledge of the situations and conditions under which they will serve and learn.
  • Supervision: Ensure that your students will have adequate supervision by an agency staff member or other designated person during their time at the service site.
  • Orientation: Risk management and liability issues should be included in pre-service orientation experience for your students. UT Service-Learning is available upon request to conduct orientation during your regular class hours, which will include risk management and prevention. It also is a good idea to have a representative of the community partner organization to speak to the class as part of orientation. Students who have previously completed the service-learning experience can also help their peers begin considering responsible and appropriate behavior for the service experience.
  • Communication: Maintain excellent communication with both your community partner and your students throughout the duration of the service experience. Try to be as accessible as possible.

*Content adopted from CCELL at Louisiana State University

As a UT employee, you enjoy some level of protection against liability. The UT Office of the General Counsel’s Statement on University Employee Protections Against Liability outlines these protections. Contact the General Counsel at 865-974-3245 with questions related to employee liability.

Additional risk management resources