Field of Science

How to run a university - liability & risk assessment

The Phactor and his colleagues got a bit of a surprise yesterday.  It turns out that the university has had a release from liability form to be filled out and signed by any student who goes out on field trips or does field research with biology faculty.  Yes, some cubicle residing nimrod decided that the risk of field work is so great that a release form is called for.  Who knew?  No one ever told us, but of course, this in itself could be an ingenious ploy where the university leaves faculty butts hanging out to dry while covering their own ass.  What do you suppose the students feel about this?  In their opinion it is much riskier living in the dorms than going on field trips.  Visiting big cities is far riskier than working in rain forest.  Without question this person has never seen  anything wilder than a city park, nor any wildlife except out a car window, so who could they not think the "field" is a risky place.  Driving to campus is probably riskier than doing research out in the field.  Driving to the field is riskier, and never ever would this bureaucrat not take such a risk.  And they want us to enumerate all the possible risks of being in the field, everything from rabid field mice to getting hit by a meteorite.  Enumerate all the risks of being on campus: food poisoning in a cafeteria, falling out of a dorm room window (18 floors & surviving!), breaking legs and/or arms falling from a tree in the quad, knocking out teeth while skate boarding/rope skipping/bike riding; and all of these things have actually happened.  The worst injury ever from rainforest ecology was a broken arm and that was from playing soccer with the Costa Ricans after lunch.  In a manner of speaking this shows us how alienated the general public is from nature.  Once on a field trip in S. Africa, the Phactors spent several nights in a wildlife park sleeping in a small stilted cabin overlooking a stream.  It had canvas sides and mosquito netting and was about 100 meters away from the lodge.  Hardly wilderness at all, but you could hear lions at night and you do not sleep through it when a herd of buffalo (not to be confused with bison) decides to cross the stream about 80 meters down stream in the middle of the night.  One hardy visitor, who earlier was posing for his portrait on a land rover with his hunter's hat and big game rifle in hand, was found sleeping in a VW van because the cabin was too scary.  Who would have guessed that this fellow would end up at our university in a nice cubicle somewhere deciding on policy relative to field trips.  Must have been very traumatic for him to hear those lions.  So everyone decided it was best to just keep ignoring the forms, but here's a prediction, it will be imposed on people awarded grants for field work first because of the fiscal leverage.

1 comment:

Steven Salzberg said...

Phac: my former University (U. Maryland) made us fill out forms every time we took a trip anywhere - even a day trip. The lawyers/bean counters claimed that they needed this information for insurance purposes. I routinely ignored this requirement, which I highly recommend as the standard response to any such requirements from central administration.