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UA News
Ombuds want more opportunities to help

By Sarah Nixon
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday October 22, 2002

Campus volunteers work with UA community to solve problems ranging from academics to work conflicts

Conflicts in school, work, family life and personal relationships can be overwhelming at times.

Midterms are here.

The workweek is never long enough to finish everything.

Tensions between friends, coworkers and family can run high.

One group on campus wants to help faculty, staff and students deal with day-to-day problems and questions early on.

The UA Ombuds Committee seeks to minimize conflict, resolve confusion, misunderstandings and misconseptions by facilitating communication between members of the UA community on confidential grounds.

They handle a broad range of social problems, conflicts between members of the UA, and more.

Faculty, staff members and students can call the Ombuds Committee for problems and questions ranging from academic policies to conflicts with co-workers.

"Ombuds is like having a best friend you can say anything to," said Ombuds program coordinator Claudia D'Albini. "There's nothing to lose by calling Ombuds."

Initially, callers speak with the program coordinator, who assesses what the problem involves, then contacts the most apt ombud to speak with the caller about the specific issue.

The on-campus service, which helped 368 callers and visitors last year, is comprised of 12 faculty, 14 staff, 14 personnel and three student members. The staff is ethnically diverse, because each ombud represents a myriad of individuals at UA, D'Albini said.

Each ombud was nominated by their peers and appointed to ombuds by President Pete Likins on the basis of their knowledge of UA policies and procedures and their experience in mediation.

The volunteer assistants are not professional counselors, but under certain situations may refer a caller to an expert. Sexual harassment and domestic abuse cases, and other illegal actions a caller reports will be reported to authorities, with the caller's permission.

Ombuds volunteers help people assess the risks of getting a professional involved in addressing their problems and organize a method of action that empowers a student or employee to handle the situation on their own.

"Each contact is unique. In 11 years, it is rare for two incidents to be identical. We non-judgmentally assess each call individually with honor and respect," D'Albini said. "With so many policies and procedures at the university, some students are guided to wrong resources. We'll find you the right answers."

"Ombuds" is derived from "ombudsman," a Swedish term used in the early 18th century, meaning someone who is responsible for investigating and resolving problems.

"Contacts may be hesitant at first until they get confirmation that we are neutrals," said Chris Farley, a Ombuds Committee member and senior program coordinator in the Bursar's Office. "The service is confidential, if we are not the right service, we'll get you to the right place," Farley said.

There are currently over 200 ombuds committees on college campuses around the nation, including Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

"When people encounter a difficulty, they often have a solution in their own mind, but want someone who has experience with problem-solving to talk with," said Ted Tong, associate dean of pharmacy and committee member.

Every year, Likins reminds department heads and deans that new ombuds are appointed each January, and encourages their interest in being appointed, Tong said. The program has been operating for 10 years. Likins organizes an end-of-the-year reception to thank ombuds for their campus leadership.

Ombuds are available from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at 626-5589.


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