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Business Officer Magazine

When Bad Things Happen

In the 25 years since United Educators came about from a NACUBO task force studying higher education liability insurance, the landscape has changed significantly. In the featured session, "Risks on Campus: 25 Years of Lessons Learned," United Educators (UE) President and CEO Janice Abraham and two of her staff discussed liability trends as revealed in the 36,000 claims the company has handled since 1987.

"Now there are heightened expectations of higher education institutions," said Robb Jones, UE senior vice president and general counsel for claims management. "Juries expect a higher standard of conduct from colleges and universities than from corporations." Other factors include a "liability industry" that targets vulnerable individuals, as well as the power of "hindsight bias" that assumes authorities should have connected the dots that led to an outcome.

The CBO's role has also evolved, as the trend for institutions has broadened from safety committees to enterprise risk management. UE's vice president for risk management, Constance Neary, outlined new rules of crisis response planning that would protect "the ultimate asset of your institution—your reputation."

  • No institution is immune. CBOs should assume crises are inevitable—and United Educators advocates a very broad definition of crisis.
  • A poor response can be as damaging as the initial crisis itself.
  • A crisis response plan is a living document. Neary said there is no perfect all-response plan; the key is to spend time practicing scenarios and drills.
  • Expert media relations counsel must be on board before a crisis hits. "Internal resources really can't advise us about how we are perceived by the outside world," Neary said.
  • Your president and other high-level administrators need frequent reminders of their roles. "Make sure your president and senior team are well-trained on the crisis plan," said Abraham, and that these leaders know to present a message consistent with the institution's mission, policies, and procedures.

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