I hate math! But not the kind of math you’re thinking about. I’ll never be like one of my daughters who once explained to me that doing the calculus problems at the back of the book was fun. I do find that incomprehensible, but I understand math as useful. Losing weight is a simple arithmetic equation (subtracting calories and adding activities equals losing weight). Now if I would just apply my knowledge.
Understanding budgets – also useful. Being able to use math to double the chocolate chip cookie recipe – very useful. No, that’s not the math I hate.
Today, I’m frustrated by the math of risk. Is the risk of this action so great that we shouldn’t take it? Is the reward so great we should take the risk? Should we aim for zero risk? Unreasonable. But we can’t ignore risk factors, so how much risk is acceptable?
We make risk decisions for ourselves every day – often without being aware that we are doing it. Pulling out in front of a car is a risk assessment based on our perception of their speed, driving conditions, knowledge of our ability to accelerate quickly and our level of impatience.
In our work, we make risk assessments every day – does the possible learning in this activity outweigh the risks? We accept some risk – we have to or we wouldn’t do much of anything. As a result, we catapult pumpkins and have car bashes and Campus Rec has a climbing wall. There are other risks that we decide are too great, the negative consequences too severe and so we tell students no.
The challenge is to find our way through this math equation. We can’t be irresponsible and put students and staff and the university at risk and we can’t let risk stop students from having great opportunities.
Therefore, we use math every day. Unlike the math I learned in school, there is rarely a simple, clear, let alone elegant, solution to the math of risk and reward. So, we ask for advice, talk to colleagues, do the math and make the best decision we can. But like today, when we’ve had to say no to a good idea – well on these days, I hate math!