Catching On: How Higher Education Eventually Came Around to Risk Management
Trade groups merged and pushed universities to recognize risk management practices and practitioners long before actually teaching the discipline in the classroom. And it's likely that there are no other industries where a trade group was instrumental in creating the risk management concept.
But it was only following much of the political unrest and student protests in the 1960s that caused so much destruction on college campuses that university insurance managers really started to come together. With campus turmoil and destruction or property rampant, the schools needed money for policing, repairs, clean-up and protection.
The insurance companies weren't terribly cooperative and saw the protests as a means for adding to their bottom lines, so universities were saddled with half the protection at twice the price.
Rates skyrocketed on everything--fire and liability premiums, with the tripling and sometimes quadrupling of deductibles.
Only through the relentless efforts of a few individuals who served as insurance managers of a handful of major universities did the groundwork get laid for a risk management organization.
In 1963, in seeking out others to share higher education insurance concerns with, William Hustedt, insurance manager of the University of Wisconsin, contacted College and University Business magazine, now University Business, to ask whether a university insurance manager association existed: It didn't.
"Hustedt's request is significant in that it reflected the growing needs and awareness of college and university risk and insurance managers," according to "The Historical Compendium of the University Risk Management Insurance Association," compiled in 1986 by Charlie Emerson, risk manager at the University of Kentucky.
By 1966, a so-called East Coast group of insurance managers formed, which included the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Brown and 12 other schools. A Western group formed, too, which consisted of the Big Ten schools plus Notre Dame and Marquette.
The planners thought their first meeting would work best with only a few larger schools "with some natural division," according to the URMIA history report. The hope was to accomplish "a close personal friendship among the managers, and to avoid unwieldiness," according to the compendium.
But because university administrators were skeptical of these new insurance or "risk" managers, and didn't perceive them as true professionals, the universities wouldn't foot the bill for any meetings. As a result, attendees would have had to pay any traveling expenses themselves. So the distance and shortage of money kept the groups separate.
The Western Group had its first meeting at the University of Wisconsin in April 1966. The Eastern Group had its first meeting two months later at the University of Pennsylvania.
These early annual meetings set the stage for twice-a-year meetings, where university insurance representatives met to discuss general and specific concerns of mutual interest based upon requests by member schools. They gradually moved from discussing risk management, fire insurance, manuscripts/papers/standards, general liability and Medicare to broader discussions about "the growth of risk."
While the Western and Eastern groups progressed based upon the knowledge gleaned from each other's seminars and conferences, each still operated separately. However, both groups also realized that some kind of union was necessary in the not-too-distant future.
But there were still too many issues that each group didn't see eye-to-eye on, such as bringing in outside speakers, setting up some kind of constitution or maintaining a loose organization, limiting the membership or allowing more universities to join.
"Though all institutions suffered the circumstances of the times, it appeared that those Western managers believed they had more common problems and solutions among each other rather than collectively with the Eastern universities," according to the compendium.
A breakthrough came in October of 1966 when the Western managers structured a constitution and formed the University Insurance Manager's Association, the predecessor organization to URMIA.
By the time of the first meeting between the Eastern and Western insurance managers at Penn State University in May 1969, both groups had seen the benefits of their meetings. Membership, meanwhile, was growing rapidly; A group of insurance managers on the Pacific Coast also began coming to meetings. But there was no time to celebrate.
It was the peak of student unrest and burning campus buildings were becoming all too common. Carriers in response demanded outrageous rate increases and huge mandatory deductibles. So, to address the insurance industry through a single voice, the two groups, along with the Pacific Coast schools, completed a three-way merger in 1970: 60 university members were represented by UIMA.
By the early 1970s, as more responsibilities were loaded upon the insurance managers--the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 increased attention to fire and life safety codes and medical-malpractice issues--it became clear that the insurance manager's roles reflected their real jobs as risk managers.
The organization followed suit, and in 1976, the association's name was changed to today's name--the University Risk Management and Insurance Association.
"The name change was enacted in order to more accurately reflect greater involvement of university insurance and benefit managers with risk management concepts," according to the official history.
Ironically, perhaps, according to the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc., those same universities didn't add risk management to their curriculums until the 1980s, and it wasn't considered part of the academic mainstream until the 1990s.
SUSAN GUREVITZ lives in Philadelphia.
April 15, 2008
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