Ombudspeople reduce tensions

By Christie S. Peterson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

During their university careers, many students and faculty will encounter disagreements they cannot or do not wish to resolve themselves.

When this happens, the students may turn to the little-known, on-campus Ombudsperson Committee for mediation services.

Jose Ayala, a member of the University of Arizona Ombudsperson Committee, said the program's purpose is to help settle major and minor disagreements, avoiding the "costly litigation and embarrassment" associated with formal grievance procedures.

During the 1993-94 school year, 20 students, 24 faculty members, 43 staff members and eight other individuals were helped to resolve conflicts through the free ombudsperson process.

The first step in this process is a phone call from a troubled individual to one of the 39 committee members whose numbers are publicly available in the UA directory.

Often, the problem is solved over the phone at this early stage, when clients realize that there is not a problem or that they can easily solve it themselves.

"The main idea behind this is having someone to talk to," said Ayala. "It aims to reach out to staff and students and give them an opportunity to call someone who will be willing to sit down and listen and mediate."

Other times, the situation necessitates active mediation between the involved parties, and the ombudsperson attempts to reach an agreement satisfactory to both sides.

Despite all efforts of the ombudsperson, it is not always possible to reach an agreement, at which time traditional grievance methods may be employed. Jennifer Avil‚s, a first-year Ombudsperson Committee member, said that sometimes the parties "agree to disagree."

However, Avil‚s also said that she has seen the program "help both faculty and students see things from another perspective ... in a non-confrontational environment."

Mediation does not necessitate a problem of grand proportions; minor disagreements are just as eligible for help as major ones. Ayala said this is important because "a little squabble can develop into a major (one) if it's not tackled."

No matter what level of intervention is necessary, though, all clients are guaranteed complete confidentiality.

The UA Ombudsperson Program is based on a similar one at ASU and was adopted here at the prompting of President Manuel T. Pacheco and others, Ayala said.

The administration is "101 percent behind this program," he said. "They have seen it succeed and seen it helps people."

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