Risk Management Issues facing Campus Recreation Directors

July 17, 2011

How risks have changed in the past 10 years

Kathleen Hatch
Executive Director of University Recreation & Wellbeing, WSU
Mick Deluca
Director, Department of Cultural and Recreational Affairs , UCLA

Kathleen Hatch (Washington State University) and Mick DeLuca (UCLA) are two well know and respected Campus Recreation Directors within the NIRSA family. They graciously agreed to be ‘interviewed’ by Ian McGregor to share their insights on the topic of Risk Management – from a department-wide perspective. To provide a framework for the interview, the following list of questions were circulated prior to the session.

  1. From a Risk Management perspective, what are the key risk areas impacting Campus Recreation Directors today? How does this differ from 10 years ago? How would you priority rank a list of these major issues?
  2. Explain in detail what some of these specific risks look like; how these risks impact your department and the steps you’ve taken to mitigate the risks.
  3. How is Risk Management coordinated within your department? Describe the role of the Risk Manager and the Risk Management Committee in your department.
  4. The importance of creating a risk ‘culture’ within the department.
  5. Can Campus Recreation become a risk management leader within the university setting?
  6. What advice would you provide to Directors who are struggling with these new risks?

The ensuing discussion quickly turned into a free-flowing exchange of ideas and experiences. The insights shared, together with the pragmatic and common sense advice given, should provide Directors with a realistic roadmap to follow as they try to navigate their way through the new wave of risk issues.

Key Risk Areas facing Campus Recreation Directors today
Ian McGregor (IM): What are some of the significant risks facing Campus Recreation today and how does this differ from 10 years ago? How would you rank order the following list of risks?

  • Risk of injury
  • Financial risks
  • Reputational risks
  • Contractual risks
  • Active shooter
  • Sexual harassment
  • Hazing
  • Employee harassment
  • Employee screening and hiring the right staff
  • Cyber risks
  • Disease control
  • Risks associated with facilities and equipment
  • Privacy and confidentiality risks

Kathleen Hatch (KH): We are much less concerned today about the risk of injury than we were 10 years ago for two reasons (a) our risk ‘culture’ at WSU is such that our staff are much more aware and are totally tuned into the need for diligence in this area and (b) many of the other risks highlighted have become more pressing day-to-day issues.

Mick DeLuca (MD): Everything we do has a risk management component to it! As many of our departments have become medium to large size businesses there is no question that many other risk issues now dominate the landscape — e.g. the Recreation budget at UCLA exceeds $11M hence the financial risks have increased significantly over the past 10 years. In addition to financial risks there are other newcomers — e.g. the use of social networking in an interview setting. Using information posted on Facebook in a decision making capacity in the hiring process can expose the University to significant risk.

KH: There is no question that the financial piece is huge. Our unit resides within the Division of Business and Finance, and as a result, we have a great focus on solid financial management. As a large service center we are one of the many locations that the internal and state auditors evaluate every year. We dedicate a lot of internal training to ensure the entire continuum of our business practices and cash handling meet all the safeguards and level of accountability necessary.

MD: It is difficult to rank order these risks since all of them are important and at some point in the year, every one of them will be #1. All of them are on a ‘floating top 10’which on any day will be the #1 issue we have to deal with. The job of the Director is to deal with these issues and allocate appropriate resources to deal with them.

KH: It’s like ranking our programs – they are all priorities! The important thing is how we respond to these risks as a department. A common denominator in any risk management equation is capabilities of our staff — not only who we have hired, but their initial and on-going training.

Explaining the Risks
IM: Explain these risks in more detail and why they are problematic for Campus Recreation departments. How have you addressed them?

Financial Risks
MD: As we’ve gone more high tech and using the latest data systems and software, confidentiality around data security has dramatically increased. The issues are many — conforming to the University financial policies & procedures and fiduciary processes; confidentiality; data security; storing credit card information are just some of the issues we deal with on a day to day basis. In the last 5-10 years, the level of information and detail needed by Directors or Department staff to make decisions has significantly increased.

KH: Not only has the landscaped changed dramatically but the potential exposure and associated liabilities are hard to forecast. There are no ‘simple’ screw ups anymore — even an error with something as regular as employee payroll can damage the department reputation and lead to unintended distractions, audits, required training, etc.
MD: The UC system is self insured and this means that departments may be held accountable for any losses. There is a $50K deductable for all settled claims, and for our Recreation Department this means that a reserve fund has to be established to cover this possibility.

Resources ($ and people)
MD: Recent budget cuts in the UC system has meant that to avoid layoffs, staff have to take ‘furlough’ days off, hence we are operating programs and facilities with adjusted schedules or less people resources. For one of our Unions, the furlough process has been adapted and has lead to shorter shifts for all workers — the implication being that there is less coverage by workers in high impact areas e.g. grounds and custodial staff, meaning that our own staff might have to somehow cover the work functions of the diminished work schedule to meet program demands. This is an example of a new twist on the people resource risk issue.

KH: Some of the broader university implications of ‘people resource’ risks are what we’ve experienced directly as a result of the ‘decentralization’ of some functions. In other words, some functions or tasks that were previously handled by central administration or another department (e.g. pool operations) are now being passed on to Campus Recreation. But the department may not have the appropriate in-house staff resources and expertise to deal with this. As Directors we have to ask “who are we hiring and why, and what assets do we need on the team?”

Reputational Risks
MD: The Texas A&M Bonfire is the classic example of a university activity that went off the rails and caused enormous damage on different levels, including significant reputational damage. So Directors are now constantly being faced with questions like “should we be doing this and will it impact the department or University reputation?” For example, should we be soliciting a sponsorship with a company that does not engage in ‘Fair Trade’ practices? Do I rent my facility to a group promoting a questionable cause or involving controversial subject matter?

KH: Even a simple question about “how green is our department” can elicit a challenge to our reputation.

Contractual Risk
MD: Contracts can involve outside groups renting Recreation Sports facilities or Recreation Programs renting off campus facilities. Contracts also include personnel contracts e.g. with Sport Clubs coaches. There are significant risks involved for the department and University, and all contracts need to be vetted before being signed.

Active Shooter
KH: The make-up of our universities is changing. While we continue to become more open and inclusive (from both a University and Campus Recreation perspective), we have growing concerns about the emotional stability and wellbeing of our full community. We are all vulnerable to the ‘active shooter’ and it’s another area we need to raise awareness, develop policy and engage in training exercises. We need to be connected to others on campus identifying at risk individuals while preparing to respond to critical incidents.

MD: In addition to local and inter-state trips, we are now dealing with international travel for our Sport Clubs and Outdoor Programs. This means that in addition to the significant risks in ‘regular’ travel, Directors now have to access unique information related to participant safety in order to make decisions based on other factors e.g. consulting with the International Students Office, or going to the State Department website to see if there are any travel advisories (and not in reference to the weather!).

Hiring the right staff
KH: In the same way that we’ve hired people in the past for specific skills e.g. marketing, finance etc., we must now hire the right people, people who have this new ‘recreation risk management’ skill set — a skill set in which people recognize the specific risk issues and know how to deal with them. These people intuitively understand risk and the principles of risk management — they get the Risk Management culture. This is the new leadership skill that we must look for in hiring staff and cultivate in this profession.

The Role of the Risk Manager and Risk Management Committee
IM: How is Risk Management coordinated within your department?

MD: At UCLA, we believe that the day-to-day stakeholders have to own Risk Management. We have a department Risk Manager who consults and acts as a resource to our Risk Management Team made of up representatives from our various units. The Team plays a valuable role in the department and membership on the Team carries with it a ‘badge of honor’. In addition to coordinating with the Risk Management Team, a key role played by the department Risk Manager is to be a neutral and independent ‘voice of reason’ for the Director, act as a central point of contact with campus agencies such as Insurance and Risk Management, as well as serve as a centralized point for all Department contracts. Another key function involves coordinating and integrating all department-wide and unit training.

KH: At WSU, we have a more decentralized model for risk management. We believe in shared accountability for risk. The standing Risk Management Committee is seen as a key department committee with representation from every area. Even though there is no formal Risk Manager per se, the Committee Chair assumes a leadership role in this area. For us, risk education has become a critical component of risk management and the focus is more on training and education.
Irrespective of whether the Risk Management Committee is a person or is group driven, the key is accountability and how it’s measured? Our Committee has wide reach and influence because of its strong base and relationship with our institutional Risk Manager. I look for opportunities to reinforce their work as important and valued.

Campus Recreation as a leader in Risk Management
IM: Whenever I get the opportunity with senior management, I point out that Campus Recreation is way ahead of other parts of campus in terms of their understanding and proactive approach to Risk Management (mostly as a result of dealing with this daily). Can Campus Recreation play a leadership role on campus?
KH: There is no question that Campus Recreation is light years ahead of other campus departments. Many Risk Managers are starting to understand this and therefore the campus is going to look to all of us for leadership in this area.

MD: Absolutely – the skills, knowledge, processes, and systems utilized in recreation management are models for the entire campus. We need to create a new proactive versus reactive culture around Risk Management and how it is perceived — essentially a ‘Discipline of Yes’ instead of a ‘Discipline of No’. In other words, the new culture approaches risk issues from the perspective of education, and the ability to say ‘yes we can do it’ if the proper steps and measures are in place. — We move to asking ourselves and others what measures do we need to put in place to insure the activity is successful and safe.

Advice to Directors
IM: Many Directors will argue that they simply do not have the resources (time, money, people) to address these risk issues. Or they fear that by asking question or taking action they are going to open ‘Pandora’s Box’. Is this a valid excuse for not being more proactive?

KH: If you are not addressing these issues or structuring your department so that you and your staff can effectively deal with these risk management issues – you are simply not doing your job! Effectively managing the risks yields a wider reach for our programs and services — this isn’t about the old paradigm of preventing a facility from closing, but rather what new opportunity will you have as a result of this strong foundation.

MD: The reality is that all directors are already practicing some form of risk management e.g. hiring qualified lifeguards or other staff, training people to deal with a medical emergency, doing safety checks of equipment or facilities The question becomes — what additional (often small) steps can you take as an improved practice ?
Department audits should not be feared — they should be viewed as a tool to help you expose suspect policies and practices, and provide you with tools and solutions to do something about it.

KH: The new realities identified in this dialogue provide some of the answers. We are talking about creating a department structure and risk culture that facilitates fast and efficient response to the many challenges facing a Campus Recreation department. We are also talking about new leadership skills needed by staff and the important role the director plays in ensuring the right people with the right skills are hired and that sufficient resources are directed to ensure that problems are addressed and solved.

MD: Every University and even your own Department has its ‘Bonfire’ just waiting to happen. What is yours? You simply can’t afford to not allocate adequate resources. In fact, proactively addressing risk management issues provides an opportunity for you to advance your Campus Recreation agenda. The more you proactively address and mitigate your risk areas, your reputation increases with senior management. At some point this will have an impact – whether it is in accessing new resources, getting that new addition built, or being asked to play a leadership role in a campus initiave.

KH: The answer to the question “Where do I start?” is “Just start!”

For more information on our Online Courses,
contact us now!