Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education


An Inside Look at Duty of Care

September 22, 2020


Spring of 2020 will always be on the mind of international educators as we begin to reflect on how we responded and how we will continue to respond to dynamic situations. For Marquette University, a private university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, care is especially emphasized in their practice of duty of care.

Karli Webster, Marquette University’s Manager of Study Abroad Programs, responded with leadership and empathy as she assisted students across the Atlantic during COVID-19. For one student, who was studying abroad in Madrid, the reality hit close to home as he began to feel sick while on a weekend trip for St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. From answering his Mother’s questions to arranging housing for the student in Dublin, Marquette’s and Webster’s responses were nothing but well-rounded and supportive.

Duty of care looks different at each institution, based on program offerings and university characteristics. At Marquette, the philosophy is to work directly with institutions and providers. By creating these direct relationships, Webster explained, it helps create contacts for help on the ground. For this specific student, that meant contacting a partner institution in Dublin which connected Webster with a landlord and in turn, safe and isolated housing for the student after his hospital stay. Webster stated, “We strive to build relationships in a number of locations, so even if a student is on a faculty-led program, they can still receive the best resources in that country. These relationships have really driven how we address duty of care.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, international education offices have had to transcend their duties to provide the best possible care for their students during these challenging times. Webster said that at Marquette, the goal is to care for the whole person. She elaborated by saying, “It’s really looking at what’s best for that student throughout the whole process, whether that’s deciding which program to go on or how to handle a situation with them while they’re abroad. For me, I try to put myself in that student’s or that parent’s shoes and think about how I would want the university to react. They’re more than just a number that’s enrolled in one of our programs. They’re truly a member of the Marquette family.”

Despite Marquette’s international education office being one of the younger departments on campus, they have outlined some core practices in their duty of care.

Four Tips to Address Duty of Care

  1. Know your policies inside and out. This includes insurance policies, waivers of liability and release, and communication allowed by FERPA. Webster added that during COVID-19, having this knowledge at the forefront of her mind helped drive faster decision making.
  2. Form relationships with other universities, providers, and partners, so that you can pick up the phone and get accurate answers when you need them. Marquette staff was able to call their international health insurance provider and partner institutions as a part of their COVID-19 response, which produced better results and answers.
  3. Create parent-based resources, whether that’s a parent predeparture webinar or centralized resource for parents on the university study abroad website. By providing these resources to students and encouraging them to pass along the information to parents, parents will feel more secure in their student’s safety and know who to turn to when emergency strikes.
  4. Have a crisis response plan in place with a number of situations. Your crisis response plan should have core questions answered that are pertinent to your institution. Here are two questions to consider: What is your email communication plan for students? Who are your backup emergency contacts?

"No matter what you plan, you're still going to have to adapt it some, but having those core elements in place, especially for maintaining contact with students and parents, when appropriate, is helpful."

— Karli Webster

Additional Tips Learned from COVID-19
Have a central place for resources and general updates, especially for dynamic situations. Webster stated, "Even if that's just confirming that your institution is monitoring the situation and deciding the best way to proceed, this can calm gear and uncertainty for stakeholders."

Know that every situation or crisis is different. We can’t plan for everything, but we can make sure that we are prepared to respond. Webster commented that “global pandemic sweeping the nation in a couple of weeks” wasn’t initially in their crisis plan, but having various situations with core practices aids in their ability to make well-rounded decisions.

Have good and consistent relationships with other departments on campus. During COVID-19, Marquette coordinated frequently with their general counsel and their medical office for additional resources and knowledge to deliver the best possible responses for students.

Utilize software that can help deliver your institutional response. As a client of Terra Dotta, Marquette University and its staff were able to utilize AlertTraveler® to provide immediate country intelligence notifications, confirm location of travelers, and support students as they began to return home

"AlertTravele provided a great opportunity for us to have more assurance that we weren't missing any locations where we had people traveling. We rely on the system to identify all travelers who have registered and notify them automatically."

— Marquette University

Learn more about Duty of Care and protecting your students and faculty in Terra Dotta’s E-Book: Serious About Duty of Care? Anticipating risk and how to prevent it.