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Professional Opinion

Higher ed management council asks ‘What’s going on in your area that we should know about?’

A collaborative approach to risk management helps leaders tackle potential problems
University Business, June 2018
Jo Allen is president of Meredith College.
Jo Allen is president of Meredith College.

When it comes to risk management, a key fear is being blindsided by exposure we didn’t even know we had. At Meredith College, we have addressed many risks through the establishment of an administrative management council, composed of the direct reports of the vice presidents.

Meeting at least twice per semester, this group of about 40 mid-level managers and solo operatives is charged with constantly being in “sweep mode”—scanning the higher education landscape for dangers, concerns and opportunities for improvement within the context of their specific areas.

Campus leaders

The group includes leaders of IT, facilities, marketing, academics, athletics, federal reporting and compliance, research and assessment, budgeting/finance, security, student life, health care and counseling, media relations, advancement, and human resources, among other critical campus roles.

They are looking for real or potential situations that may affect us—some having already harmed other colleges.

The intention is not to create alarm, but to have the opportunity to do our homework before a crisis hits. And because any member of the council can put a topic on the agenda (based on the single question: What’s going on in your area that we should know about?), we have an opportunity to cross-check for related concerns and intersections for collaboration.

A key topic we have addressed is the cost of tuition set against the growing public dissatisfaction with the value of a college degree. We recognize that such a climate challenges us to control costs while also clarifying a message of the special value not only of a college education, but of Meredith College education in particular.

This conversation has created bridges between our business operations, financial aid, admissions and marketing teams. We have also been out front with information on the European Union’s passage of the General Data Protection Regulation and its implications for our many study abroad programs.

Reducing turf tensions

Ultimately, the council’s success comes from surfacing risks and engaging in collaborative planning to reduce the likelihood of damaging incidents, to reduce the impact of the damages and to find solutions should damage occur. Equally important are the benefits of establishing and regularly convening this group.

First, silos (even on a small campus) are damaging, and our council sessions compel us to know one another better and to identify where our areas of responsibility overlap or leave a gap. This helps reduce turf tension and encourages seeking positive interactions for problem-solving.

Second, we have deeper conversations about the intersections of routine situations and long-term, strategic challenges. Third, we also gain a unique opportunity to gauge the campus “temperature,” including where and when to go deeper on a topic or idea. The group also helps us share a consistent message—a key element of good risk management. 

Finally, we have found that these mid-level managers offer a unique, high-efficiency and low-cost opportunity for group professional development.

Beyond the benefits to group dynamics, we are identifying individual mid-level managers who possess growth potential and understand how to invest in their development. Such a plan helps us address both business continuity and succession planning.

Ultimately, our culture of risk management, strategic and tactical planning, communication, and leadership development deepens as a collaborative feature of the Administrative Management Council and, consequently, of Meredith College.   


Jo Allen is president of Meredith College.