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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Dec. 09, 2005

Ombuds office at Iowa State is a go

by Diana Pounds

ISU faculty, staff and graduate students will soon have a new place to turn for help with problems or disputes -- the Ombuds Office.

Two part-time ombudspersons will staff the office, serving as informal problem-solvers for faculty, professional and scientific staff, supervisory and confidential staff, and graduate and professional students. (Merit staff leaders determined merit contract staff already have effective methods for dealing with disputes.)

An ombuds office has been under discussion on campus for more than a decade. Both the P&S Council and Faculty Senate have proposed creating the office at one time or another. President Gregory Geoffroy appointed a small group of Faculty Senate, P&S and administrative leaders to develop the latest proposal, which he recently endorsed.

The Ombuds Office will operate as a pilot program for three years, said Susan Carlson, associate provost and leader of the group that worked on the ombuds proposal. "After three years, we'll evaluate the office and make sure we've got the right structure," Carlson said.

Impartial, confidential help

Iowa State's ombudspersons will offer impartial, confidential help with work-related problems and disputes, Carlson said. They will have thorough knowledge of institutional policies and resources and they will serve in a number of roles.

Sometimes, they will listen, offer advice and make referrals, she said. Sometimes, they will serve as facilitators, helping those involved in disputes to talk over resolutions. Other times, they may recommend improvements in university policies and procedures.

Carlson offered a few hypothetical instances in which ombuds services might be sought:

  • A staff member believes he has a complaint against his supervisor.
  • A graduate student thinks she's seen inappropriate behavior from a faculty member.
  • Two faculty are in a dispute over program priorities.

The ombudspersons will foster discussion and understanding as a means to resolving problems, Carlson said. They won't act as legal advisers, do formal investigations or arbitrations, or testify in formal hearings.

Ombudspersons are there to help solve problems before they grow into formal appeals, she added.

The ISU ombuds office

Two ombudspersons -- a current or retired faculty member and a current or retired P&S or supervisory and confidential staff member -- will be appointed. Each will work 15 hours a week for nine months of the year.

Details about searches to fill the positions will be announced in spring semester.

Ombuds offices are becoming increasingly common on campuses, Carlson said. More than 300 colleges and universities, including the University of Iowa, have ombuds services.


"After three years, we'll evaluate the office and make sure we've got the right structure."

Susan Carlson