Pandemic Or Not, Running The College Is A Risky Business

risk management

Running a large commercial/industry enterprise - or a public institution - can be a risky business at the best of times. During a pandemic, the threats to the well-being of almost aspects of such operations are multiplied enormously.

That situation was reflected in the presentation of the college administration's annual Risk Management Report to the Board of Governors (BofG) during its November 24th meeting.

Authored by President Patti France – and presented (in part) by the new Executive Director of the President’s Office, Raffaele Nicoletti – the report explains that:

Senior management ensures that appropriate steps are taken to identify, assess and manage risk and potential hazards associated with the organization, its activities and services. The college's risk management strategy provides a structured and coherent approach to identifying, assessing, monitoring and managing risk. A Risk Management Committee meets to review, assess and update new developments or actions taken.

Managers and staff, at all levels, have a responsibility to identify, evaluate, report and manage risks. As a result of Covid-19 and the associated risks, management is working on a strategy to revamp the current reporting model to a new and improved reporting structure.

In the future, Nicoletti told the Board, an entirely new risk-evaluation structure will be in place. It will be “bottom-up” – with front-line departmental staff identifying risk situations, to be evaluated by a committee made up representatives of departments throughout the college, with recommendations reviewed and implemented by senior administration, and (finally) regular reports to the BofG.

The associated new system of reporting and tracking risks will also lead to an addition to the annual report in the future: a section on "Future Risk Prioritization" - how to balance college initiatives with potential risks: whether the former can/should proceed in light of the latter.

Now and in the future, Nicoletti said, the aim is to instill a college-wide mindset of “risk aware without being risk averse”.

In answer to a Governor’s question, France added that student organizations ­­– although not members of the new risk review committee – would certainly have input to the process, through the monthly meetings of student leaders with senior administrators. “Student concerns can quickly become risks, so their input will absolutely be welcome,” France said.

This year’s report to the BofG also explained:

St. Clair College has incorporated risk management into the daily operations of the college by anticipating potential risks and planning reasonable recourses. Since 2009, a formal Risk Management Report is conducted annually and presented to the Board of Governors. Other proactive measures include policy development; promoting health and safety; professional development; safeguarding our staff, students and other clients; the development of Business Continuity Plans to ensure the effective, continuous operations of the college; and conducting ongoing reviews for risk mitigation opportunities.

At St. Clair College, risk management is the process of identifying, analyzing and addressing areas of existing or potential risks. Proactive risk management practices can help avoid or reduce liability to the College. The risk management strategy has included four basic questions:

1. What can go wrong?

2. What can we do to prevent it from happening?

3. What will we do if it happens?

4. If something happens, how will we pay for it?

A risk management strategy provides a structured, coherent approach to identifying, assessing and managing risk. It builds in a process for regularly updating and reviewing the assessment based on new developments or actions taken.

As usual, based on a template developed by France over a decade ago, the two-dozen pages of the report were colour-coded, based on the perceived level of risk of the various scenarios, dealing with every single departmental operation of the school.

Red highlights a high-probability risk that a risk-scenario may arise, orange a medium-probability risk, and green a low-probability risk.

risk management
An example of one of the colour-coded pages of the annual Risk Management Report.

Also contained in the report is a rating of the impact-to-the-college's-well-being: whether a problem would severely affect the school's operation or financial status, moderately affect it, or affect it in a minor manner.

The final section of the chart details existing and proposed policies and procedures designed to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of the risk occurring, or to lessen its impact.

For instance, "meeting enrolment projections" is an orange-inked topic. Especially during a pandemic, there is a moderate possibility that student numbers might decline (although St. Clair has retained most of its enrolment, to-date). A dip, depending upon its severity, would pose a low to moderate risk to the college's well-being, according to the report. The strategy to mitigate the risk is multi-fold, including recruitment efforts, the funding and allocation of scholarships and bursaries, branding and advertisement of the college, and the development of new and improved facilities.

Not surprisingly, an entire section - in red - has been added to the report this year under the Health and Safety departmental heading, dealing with pandemic planning and procedures.

An epidemic/pandemic has always been included in the Risk Management Report, but in very general terms, and not designated as being of a high-probability likelihood of occurring.

How times have changed.

Now, in addition to a lengthy section about the implementation of policies dealing specifically with COVID-19, several other areas of the report make reference to how the current pandemic has posed a threat to the college's operation (student and staff wellness, enrolment, international admissions, etc.).

Other interesting odds-and-ends noted in the report include:

• Created, for the most part, by the budgetary surpluses generated by the college during the past several years, the school's financial stability risks are now somewhat mitigated by reserve funds totalling $40 million. Let's say, for instance, that the pandemic worsened and caused a severe decline in enrolment. The college could "break open that piggy bank" of set-aside money, and inject it into its revenue-stream for a year or so to partially offset the tuition-losses until admissions rebounded;

• Also currently in a reserve fund is $5 million for deferred maintenance: to deal with an emergency repair to a campus roof or furnace boiler or some other architectural catastrophe. Last year (2019-20), the school spent $2.2 million on that sort of repair and renovation work;

• This past year, the college engaged a law firm to act as an independent investigator of harassment, bullying and sexual violence complaints on campus (see http://stclair-src.org/news/awareness/sexual-misconduct-policy-revised-include-independent-investigation);

• Three college employees are currently enrolled in training with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to eventually be certified as immigration advisors. That's part of the school's overall effort to ensure that the school remains completely up-to-date on federal and provincial policies affecting international student enrolment;

• As of this year, the college's insurance package features: $300 million in property coverage, $40 million in liability coverage, $15 million covering directors and officers, $5 million covering cyber attacks against the school's Information Technology systems, $10 million to cover incidents involving an "active assailant" on campus, and $100 million to cover acts of terrorism/sabotage.

MORE STORIES FROM THE NOVEMBER MEETING OF THE COLLEGE'S BOARD OF GOVERNORS

The Mid-Year Budget Adjustment: http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/college-still-track-year-end-surplus

The Acquisition of New Downtown Classroom Space: http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/college-acquires-additional-downtown-classroom-space

A Full Description of Academic Transfer Opportunities: http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/where-do-you-go-here-lots-choices

The College's Impact on the Economic Well-Being of Southwestern Ontario: http://stclair-src.org/news/need-know-news/college-portrayed-regional-economic-engine