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Members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees meet on Thursday in Walter Hall (FILE: The BoT is currently not meeting in Walter Hall, but virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Board of Trustees discusses new university insurance plan, student engagement amid pandemic

Ohio University’s Board of Trustees met in committees and executive session Thursday to discuss student engagement during the pandemic, as well as financial changes.

Audit and Risk Management 

The Audit and Risk Management committee met to discuss the 2022 fiscal year, or FY22, annual plan, as well as changes to the university’s insurance plan and carrier. 

Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer, who will step down from her position Aug. 20, and Director of Enterprise Risk Management and Insurance Larry Wines presented to the board the state of the university’s insurance, which changed significantly from FY21.

OU participates in an insurance consortium of all public universities in Ohio, excluding Ohio State University, that purchases pooled insurance to obtain better cost benefits. The consortium approach also gives the universities leverage in acquiring coverage for things impacting the higher education industry, Shaffer said. 

Wines described the current insurance situation as a “perfect storm” of negatively influential events, such as sexual abuse in higher education institutions through the country, increasing cyber ransomware attacks, civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, which are driving up the costs of insurance. In order to mitigate the financial impact of current prices, the consortium switched its insurance approach from a previous sole carrier to a patchwork of carriers covering different areas of risk. 

The varying deductibles and coverages of the new carriers allowed the universities to maintain high levels of coverage at a lower overall price, Shaffer said. 

Though final costs will not be determined until January, current quotes and estimates suggest an approximate 52% increase in insurance costs, putting the total insurance premiums for OU around $2.8 million for FY22. When looking at potential increases in insurance prices, Wines said, they anticipated a 25% to 150% increase from FY21.

“It’s tough but we’re getting through it, I think we did the best we could this year,” Wines said. “We’re looking at things we can do to soften the blow, maybe, navigate this hard market next year during next insurance renewal.” 

The university is also currently finishing two athletic compliance audits from the FY21 plan, as well as the institutional research audit, Chief Audit Executive Marion Candrea said. In progress are the compliance audit and the IP general controls audit, with the NCAA agreed-upon procedures audit beginning with external assistance in a few weeks. 

Also discussed were department staffing changes, including the promotion of Ashlee Bevan, former senior auditor, to the position of audit manager. Her promotion leaves a senior auditor vacancy, which Candrea indicated would likely not be filled in the immediate future. She also indicated that there is a vacancy in the Program to Aid Career Exploration program for a student employee that is posted for incoming students. 

Academics and Student Success 

The Academics and Student Success committee met to discuss student involvement amid the pandemic and graduation initiatives. 

The university plans to engage students on campus this fall, while still maintaining COVID-19 precautions, with outdoor activities. There is a particular focus on involving sophomore students, as many have not been to campus due to online course modalities. 

Fall engagement events include welcome week activities such as campus involvement fairs and a sophomore class photo. 

Jen Murphy, associate vice provost for OHIO Guarantee Plus graduation plan, presented to the committee the layout and goals of the new graduation initiative for OU students. The OHIO Guarantee Plus program aims to personalize a student’s college experience to fit their unique goals and interests. 

The program has three key components, Murphy said. Each student will have a success advisor, experience designer and career achievement network. 

Students will collaborate with their advisor to create a graduation plan with touchpoints and a timeline to help them along their way to achieve their goals. They will also be able to explore co-curricular opportunities with their experience designer. Each student is observed and marked on or off-plan at the end of each semester, helping facilitate their ability to reach out for help.

“How we approach the student experience is an integral part of how we define our unique value proposition to students and their families,” Murphy said. “Graduation plans formalize this holistic experience, both happening inside and outside the classroom.”

The Board also heard from Josh Antonuccio, director of the OU Music Industry Summit and School of Media Arts and Studies, about the Summit, an experiential learning opportunity which brings in panelists and guests who are professionals in the music industry. For Antonuccio, the coronavirus pandemic presented an opportunity for further expansion and involvement. After having to move online, the Summit has drawn hundreds of students and professionals from across the country and world. 

“The Summit provided the representation and conversations necessary to show the great strides women, non-binary people, people of color and the LGBTQ community are making to create a more equal and equitable future in every sector of the music world,” Marie Simpson, 2020-21 operations chair for Women in the Music Industry at OU, said.

Near the end of the meeting, the Board heard an update on intercollegiate athletics, which took a financial hit during the pandemic. The current estimate is a $1.25 to $1.5 million shortcoming in revenue.

Sophie Young contributed to this report

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