A Parody of Risky Business

If you haven’t seen the latest email from Nick Tatar, you may not be aware of the new precaution that administration at Olin has decided to take. They hope to both protect Olin from the onslaught of lawsuits that come from its students each semester and to educate students about the dangers of activities usually assumed to be harmless, such as yoga and eating breakfast.

“I agree to assume and accept full responsibility for the inherent risks with the activities in which I choose to participate.”

“I assume and accept full responsibility for myself for bodily injury, death or loss of personal property and expenses as a result of those inherent risks and dangers.”

As we all know, with each passing year, the endowment struggles to stay afloat due to Oliners’ constant barrage of successful lawsuits about death and dismemberment resulting from participation in risky activities at Olin, such as ice hockey and fencing.

While Olin’s mortality rate from such activities has remained relatively constant, the resulting lawsuits appear to only be increasing in frequency and amplitude. This past semester alone, Olin took a $3 million hit from a coalition of parents in a class action lawsuit regarding paintball accidents. The parents also demanded that a new form called the Risky Business Form (henceforth RBF) be created. The parents’ wish was fulfilled, and the college saw the RBF as an opportunity to reduce their liability.

“I understand that Olin does not want to frighten me or reduce my enthusiasm for these activities, but believes it is important for me to be informed of the nature or risk in the activities that are available to me at Olin College.”

We were heartened to read that “participation in these activities is purely voluntary, no one is forcing [students] to participate…” Quite frankly, I am relieved that no one is being forced to partake in risky activities such as using power tools at an engineering college. After all, the idea that one who designs things needs to understand how to build them is simply preposterous.

Although it is not necessary to fill out a form for activities that are not “high risk,” knowing the dangers of other activities you perform may some day help save a limb or even a life.

Yoga, a “medium-risk” activity, has a wide range of potential harms, from contortion into a position of no return to anxiety over your inability to touch your toes.

Reheating food is another “medium-risk” activity. The conventional microwave oven is a powerful machine that commands — nay, demands — a watchful eye and respect. Putting metal in it has the potential for energy release of 3 kg dynamite per 20 g of metal. Heating food for too long may cause burning of the tongue, gums, and throat, which at best would be an annoyance, and at worst, could cause swelling in the esophagus and choking to death. Even eating breakfast, a “low-risk” activity, poses the danger of choking, and, if performed in excess, high blood pressure.
One essential question we must also ask ourselves is: How does risk combine? If I were to reheat my breakfast while doing yoga, is that a high-risk activity? I am taking on the risk of a microwave, the risk of yoga, with an egg-and-cheese bagel thrown in the mix, and quite frankly that terrifies me. As college students, we should not be encouraged to use good judgment, exercise common sense, or transition into the ability to look after ourselves. We should instead have highly regimented and formulaic lists of what we can and cannot do.

Given this, we propose that all students be confined to their dorm rooms for 23 hours a day, be fed lukewarm oatmeal twice a day, and let out for one hour of individual, supervised exercise on a stationary bike. This still obviously contains risks, but we believe it is a sensible compromise that will protect safety without encroaching on the educational mission of the college.