Risk Insider: Jack Hampton

Truth and Deception in Higher Education

By: | August 24, 2017 • 3 min read
John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University and a former Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). His recent book deals with risk management in higher education: "Culture, Intricacies, and Obsessions in Higher Education — Why Colleges and Universities are Struggling to Deliver the Goods." His website is www.jackhampton.com.

Colleges are struggling on every side. Private schools do not have enough new students. Public institutions have too many.

Students can’t get onto their preferred campuses. They can’t afford to pay the tuition wherever they finally matriculate.


Professors take forever to get doctoral degrees. When they get them, they can’t find full-time positions. If they do, they do not get tenure.

Presidents raise money, comply with burdensome government regulations, resolve sex scandals, and respond to athlete misbehavior. Everybody criticizes them.

In the midst of these crises, many schools have lost sight of what is going on in the classroom.

All too often, students pick a school based on comments from parents or friends or a pleasant experience during an orientation visit to the campus on a sunny day. They make unfounded assumptions, recite opinions without reflection, and act based upon biases they do not even know they have. Emotions overcome logic.

Undergraduate programs are built upon topics such as English, biology, business, or education. All useful in many ways but are they preparing graduates for sorting out truth from fiction?

The campus itself presents a myriad of misleading challenges. Consider college recruiting slogans:

  • “We help students, just ask us.” How does this compare with subsequent services provided by the registrar, bursar, or housing office?
  • “On our campus, you are a name, not a number.” Discuss this recruiting slogan with 185 fellow students in the Ethics 101 lecture hall.
  • “We understand technology and that’s why we’ve put it at the core of your academic experience.” Think about this message as your professor writes lecture notes with chalk on a blackboard.
  • “We offer financial aid to help you afford your education.” Compare the $42,000 a year tuition with your $8,000 “scholarship,” an arrangement that will leave you with $84,000 in debt at graduation.

All too often, students pick a school based on comments from parents or friends or a pleasant experience during an orientation visit to the campus on a sunny day. They make unfounded assumptions, recite opinions without reflection, and act based upon biases they do not even know they have. Emotions overcome logic.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could come up with a single recommendation to help everyone? Perhaps, we can. How about a new freshman course taken as part of the college core along with humanities, science, and ethics? Picture the write-up in the college catalogue:

Deception Management 101 (3 credits) This course prepares students for a world where people are encouraged to believe things that are not true. Whether called beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, ruse, or subterfuge, deception is everywhere. In this course, students learn about propagating falsehoods, half-truths, denial of information, not to mention distraction, propaganda, sleight of hand, camouflage, concealment, and bad faith. The final assignment is a case study in self-deception.”


The course starts with how students and parents choose a college. Some students are not ready for college, even as some colleges are not worth the price they charge or the level of debt they create. Students learn that people make bad decisions because they ignore facts and evidence. We decide based on our beliefs. To resist deception, we must change what we believe.

An entering college freshman believes many things. Black is the color of the box sought after the crash of an airplane. Wrong. It is orange. Christopher Columbus discovered America. Wrong. Six million “Americans” were already here in 1492. The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object on earth that is visible from the moon. Wrong. No man-made object is so visible.

These beliefs are no big deal. Failing to challenge other beliefs is far more serious. Every student should attend college. Students should incur crushing debt to finance a degree. Graduating from a university ensures a high salary. These all-too-common beliefs mask themselves as the “truth.”  In many cases, they are false.

Higher education, on its current path, is not solving all problems for a generation about to graduate. It, along with its accompanying student debt, is creating serious problems. That is the “truth” about higher education. It is also the deception.

More from Risk & Insurance

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The Profession

For This Pharmaceutical Risk Director, Managing Risk Means Being Part of the Mission to Save Lives

Meet Eric Dobkin, director, insurance and risk management, for Merck & Co. Inc.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?
My first job out of undergrad was as an actuarial trainee at Chubb.I was a math major in school, and I think the options for a math major coming out are either a teacher or an actuary, right? Anyway, I was really happy when the opportunity at Chubb presented itself. Fantastic company. I learned a lot there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?
After I went back to get my MBA, I decided I wanted to work in corporate finance. When I was interviewing, one of the opportunities was with Merck. I really liked their mission, and things worked out. Given my background, they thought a good starting job would be in Merck’s risk management group. I started there, rotated through other areas within Merck finance but ultimately came back to the Insurance & Risk Management group. I guess I’m just one of those people who enjoy this type of work.


R&I: What is risk management doing right?
I think the community is doing a good job of promoting education, sharing ideas and advancing knowledge. Opportunities like this help make us all better business partners. We can take these ideas and translate them into actionable solutions to help our companies.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?
I think we have made good advancements in articulating the value proposition of investing in risk management, but much more can be done. Sometimes there is such a focus on delivering immediate value, such as cost savings, that risk management does not get appropriate attention (until something happens). We need to develop better tools that can reinforce that risk management is value-creating and good for operational efficiency, customers and shareholders.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?
I’d actually say there hasn’t been as much change as I would have hoped. I think the industry speaks about innovation more often than it does it. To be fair, at Merck we do have key partners that are innovators, but some in the industry are less enthusiastic to consider new approaches. I think there is a real need to find new and relevant solutions for large, complex risks.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?
Cyber risk. While it’s not emerging anymore, it’s evolving, dynamic and deserves the attention it gets. Merck was an early adopter of risk transfer solutions for cyber risk, and we continue to see insurance as an important component of the overall cyber risk management framework. From my perspective, this risk, more than any other, demands continuous forward-thinking to ensure we evolve solutions.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Sticking with the cyber theme, I’d say navigating through a cyber incident is right up there. In June 2017, Merck experienced a network cyber attack that led to a disruption of its worldwide operations, including manufacturing, research and sales. It was a very challenging environment. And managing the insurance claim that resulted has been extremely complex. But at the same time, I have learned a tremendous amount in terms of how to think about the risk, enterprise resiliency and how to manage through a cyber incident.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?
Have strong intellectual curiosity. Always be willing to listen and learn. Ask “why?” We deal with a lot of ambiguity in our business, and the more you seek to understand, the better you will be able to apply those learnings toward developing solutions that meet the evolving risk landscape and needs of the business.


R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?
We’re continuing to look for ways to apply technology. For example, being able to extract and leverage data that resides in our systems to evaluate risk, drive efficiencies and make things like property-value reporting easier. We’re also looking to utilize data visualization tools to help gain insights into our risks.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?
I think, at this time, I would like to continue to learn and grow in the type of work I do and broaden my scope of responsibilities. There are many opportunities to deliver value. I want to continue to focus on becoming a stronger business partner and help enable growth.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?
I’d say right now Star Wars is top on my list. It has been magical re-watching and re-living the series I watched as a kid through the eyes of my children.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in? When I was about 15, I went to a New York Rangers versus Philadelphia Flyers game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. I wore my Rangers jersey. I would not do that again.

Eric Dobkin, director, insurance & risk management, Merck & Co. Inc

R&I: What is it about this work you find most fulfilling or rewarding?
I am passionate about Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives. “Inventing for Life” is Merck’s tagline. It’s funny, but most people don’t associate “inventing” with medicine. But Merck has been inventing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases for a long time. It’s amazing to think the products we make can help people fight terrible diseases like cancer. Whatever little bit I can do to help advance that mission is very fulfilling and rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?
Ha! My kids think I make medicine. I guess they think that because I work for Merck. I suppose if even in a small way I can contribute to Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives, I am good with that. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]