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What's an Ombuds?

Author: Joel Hardman
Date: February 23, 2016
Category: General

To kick off this blog, we thought it appropriate to introduce who we are and what the Ombuds Office does for the SIUE community. The current faculty ombuds are Mary Sue Love, from the Department of Marketing and Management, and Joel Hardman, from the Department of English Language and Literature. We serve staggered three-year terms under the oversight of the Faculty Senate’s Welfare Council.

“We help people” sounds too broad to actually describe what we do, but it's close. Anyone can come into our office and we’ll invite them to sit down and tell us their story – about disrespect by a colleague, about an unfair evaluation, about difficulty getting medical leave - and we listen. We brainstorm possible courses of action, and evaluate their risks and benefits. If needed, we offer informal dispute resolution or mediation. Though our office is designed to serve faculty, we will hear anyone’s story and offer what help we can.

When we meet with visitors to our office, we follow the ethical guidelines of the International Ombudsman Association:
• Independence – as much as possible, we try to remain separate from official university governance structures, such as the Provost’s Office or SIUE’s General Counsel’s Office.
• Neutrality/impartiality – related to the previous guideline, we work to stay unaligned with the interests of any one individual or unit, but instead work toward resolutions that are fair to all.
• Informality - we do not participate in formal administrative procedures (such as a Grievanc), as that could conflict with the above two guidelines. We do not render formal judgments.
• Confidentiality - to all extent possible, we do not disclose any confidential communications beyond the walls of our office without the consent of the visitor.

Our office is an odd little space separate from the noise, biases, conflict, and obligations of our normal work life, where we hope visitors can feel welcome and comfortable talking about whatever prompted a decision to come to us.

We believe that the Ombuds office is a necessary resource for faculty at SIUE, especially in an environment of growing unease and stress related to our difficult budget situation. Faculty face diminished support for scholarly activities, fewer release units for service to the university, and altered teaching loads due to reduced numbers of adjunct faculty and changing enrollment policies. In this environment, conflict and stress at work can be expected to rise, and the need for the Ombuds office to grow.
In the coming months we will continue to blog about issues relevant to the work we do in our office, such as conflict management, communication, ethics, and discrimination. We hope the campus community will find this a useful resource for improving their work lives!

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