This article, authored by Eric Kelderman, discusses Christine Eick, who began her job as risk manager at Auburn University over fourteen years ago, when she had just one employee. Currently, the risk management department at Auburn has more than thirty staff members and a $2-million budget. Similar to Auburn, many other universities have built-up their risk-management infrastructure in order to prevent high-profile mishaps, such as fatal fires or school shootings. In addition to an effort to decrease liability, colleges are also strengthening risk management to ensure compliance with various state and federal regulations in safety and environmental health. As universities seek to address emerging problems before they become a reality, risk management departments are becoming more common in higher education, potentially making universities safer for all those on campus.
The risk management department at Auburn offers an example of how to tackle emerging risks in education. Auburn’s risk management department is consulted by campus leaders on topics ranging from the design and construction of new facilities to international travel by students and faculty. A growing number of universities are expanding their thinking about risk management to embrace a more holistic, enterprise-wide view of risk oversight. They, like their corporate counterparts, are realizing risk oversight is critical to the strategic mission and reputation of the university. Risk leaders are now playing an integral role in the management of numerous aspects of the core strategic initiatives of the university’s mission.
Some of the risks that Christine Eick commonly helps to address are insurance risks, scientific risks, and athletic risks.
Insurance is commonly known as a method of decreasing liability, which is especially important at a university with almost 25,000 students on a 1,800-acre campus. Simply by adding insurance policies on university vehicles, Auburn saved over $100,000 in just one year. With a growing number of students and research facilities, Auburn is now hoping to decrease liability in outside service contracts as another method in responding to emerging risks.
In 2003, Auburn’s total spending on scientific research reached $117-million. As a result, a great deal of risk revolves around handling toxic materials, managing safe laboratories, and designing research facilities. Auburn’s risk management department employs several safety-and-health technicians for the purpose of dealing with these risks. For example, Michael Freeman is responsible for transporting large amounts of chemicals from the laboratories and preparing them for safe disposal.
With a stadium that can hold over 87,000 fans, athletics is a major area of concern for Auburn’s risk management department. To successfully pull off a major football game requires the coordination of several hundred people in the risk management, athletics, and public-safety departments. In recent years, the risk management department has initiated several changes, such as sprinkler coverage for nearly the whole stadium and a renovation to the concourse for better traffic flow. In total, these changes make for a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone.
While Auburn offers just one example of how universities are dealing with emerging risks, many others are following their lead. The University Risk Management and Insurance Association now represents 535 institutions, which is nearly double the number a decade ago. Risk management departments now play a major role in universities as schools aspire to help everyone on campus become more aware of potential problems before they become a reality.
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