Summary of Wellesley Ombudsperson Office Activities January-June 20
The Office of the Ombudsperson at Wellesley has been expanded from five hours per week to fifteen and from seeing individuals in private meetings to also facilitating dialogue, mediating disputes and providing training. It has also been expanded by serving students as well as the traditional groups of faculty and staff. Its directive fits well within the definition of the American Bar Association “… to receive complaints and questions from individuals concerning people within an entity or the functioning of an entity. They work for the resolution of particular issues and, where appropriate, make recommendations for the improvement of the general administration of the entities they serve.”
As the new ombudsperson, conducting research and gathering information for the office began in December 2018 and there was a physical presence on campus in January 2019, during WinterSession. Early February 2019 began the process of being introduced and seeing visitors in the Ombuds Office.
In addition to meeting with 60 individual visitors over those 5 months, the Ombuds has also conducted several facilitated conversations, which have led to greater understanding and agreement among the parties. Furthermore, there have been presentations at several training sessions and such programs will be increasing in the upcoming academic year.
In the five months of active campus interactions, the Ombuds office has seen and/or communicated with the following numbers and groups of visitors (several have returned for follow up visits and are not counted here):
11 Faculty; 6 Students; 43 Staff; 2 Alumnae (not currently served by the office)
The most common type of issue brought to the Ombuds Office is that of interpersonal communication. There has been some concern among both faculty and staff about poor communication from various sectors. There have been several visitors who have asked that the Office bring forward concerns on their behalf anonymously because of the nature of the concerns.
Less frequently, some faculty have brought forward a concern on behalf of students. There is some confusion about whether the office is available to individual students, which it is.
In the spring of 2019, the Ombuds Office conducted training for faculty, staff and student groups:
Students: Two trainings on the topic of effective communication, focusing on radical candor and assertiveness; other trainings for some student leaders and residents.
Staff: Training on the topic of bullying. There will be a presence of the Ombuds Office at new staff orientations as well as other groups in the next academic year.
Faculty: Training on the topic of Difficult Conversations with Students occurred in June during the Inclusive Excellence Retreat.
There will be increased training for all 3 constituencies in the 2019-2020 academic year.
With regard to common issues for staff and faculty, communication skills could be improved. Many people tend to avoid conflict.
Some students are using social media rather than communicating in an open, assertive manner and sometimes calling others ‘out,’ rather than calling them ‘in.’
When training is completed, participants say that receiving tools in effective communication, civil dialogue and respectful problem solving is very welcome.