Student trustee wants to revive community-liaison office

By Michael Logli

The University once had an ombuds office, but it was eliminated in the early 1990s due to budget cuts. Now Chime Asonye, student trustee and senior in LAS, wants to revive it.

“Their goal is to resolve your grievances in an expedient manner,” Asonye said. “There are no loopholes.”

The purpose of an ombuds office is to handle conflicts students may have with professors, administrators, or other students. Ombuds offices do not keep records of visits or cases and every issue brought to their attention is kept entirely confidential. If an ombudsman cannot help you, he will direct you to the correct division or tell the person to contact, Asonye said.

Ombudsmen can also go directly to administrators and inform them of concerns that students may have about anything about University policy or other issues. They operate outside of the University and are not bound by any University laws. Although they do not keep track of specific cases, they must submit a report each year of what types of cases were brought to their attention as well as the number of cases, said Stephen Grabow, faculty ombudsman at the University of Kansas.

“It’s really a fascinating subject,” Grabow said.

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    The University of Kansas has two ombuds departments: both university and faculty offices. The two offices can sometimes work together on issues, but the faculty department is mainly used to give a faculty perspective on issues brought to the main university branch.

    As head of the faculty branch, Grabow said he underwent an extensive training program to learn how to be as neutral and informal as possible while still maintaining confidentiality. Because of the need for confidentiality, an ombuds office will step away from issues that become legally binding.

    “An ombudsman’s duty is to be impartial and neutral, but on a campus, sometimes it can be very hard to do,” Grabow said.

    Respect and authenticity concerning the ombudsman position have increased recently because of several Supreme Court cases, Grabow said. These cases respected the confidentiality of the ombudsmen’s information and they were protected from speaking under oath.

    Ombudsmen also work in the private sector and for corporations. They listen to the concerns of employees and then voice them to the upper management. Because of this increasing demand for ombudsmen, Grabow said he was surprised to hear that Illinois cut the position.

    “I think once an ombuds office was created, I would be surprised if it disappears,” he said.

    Asonye recently sent a memo to Chancellor Herman’s office asking why the position was originally cut and whether he would consider reviving it.

    Asonye has not received no response but is expecting the chancellor to respond soon.