Thoughts on My First Year as Ombuds | From the Ombuds

JUN. 24, 2022

As June 1, the first anniversary of my assuming the Ombuds role, approached, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some reflections on my first year in the position.

That I’m finally writing this more than three weeks later is evidence that I have been, and continue to be, busy serving the campus.

In that time, I have met with hundreds of people and given talks to a variety of campus groups. My appreciation for the diversity of the UNLV community and the talent and resilience of its students, faculty, and staff, has steadily grown. As Ombuds, I have been privileged to get a unique perspective on the work done at the university.

I’ve found my first year as Ombuds simultaneously humbling and sobering.

What’s humbling about it? First, getting to know many, many incredibly smart and accomplished people across campus. Back when airplane cockpits were slightly more accessible (I realize I am dating myself here), did you ever glance in as you were boarding the plane and think, “That sure is a lot of switches and buttons. Kind of overwhelming,” and gain a whole new appreciation for your pilots’ skills? I am lucky enough to feel something like that just about every day, when I learn about the technical details of someone’s job or hear about the research our academic colleagues conduct. You can get a good sense of all of this from reading UNLV Today, but talking with someone directly about their work somehow makes it more relatable for me. Whether it is the people who keep our campuses’ infrastructure running or those who are making the mysteries of the universe a little less mysterious, there are a lot—a lot—of people here who are really good at their jobs.

The sobering part is that, although we have thousands of talented people on UNLV’s campuses, many of them are not happy here. They may be struggling with a supervisor, having difficulties with their peers, or, for a variety of reasons, come to realize that their current role isn’t the right fit for them.

I don’t have a solid estimate of what percentage of people at UNLV aren’t happy. As Ombuds, I tend to hear from people who are having a rough time; it’s rare that someone makes an appointment with me to tell me how great things are doing, or how they are pleased with their current level of remuneration. So my sample is, admittedly, skewed.

I also don’t know whether UNLV has more dissatisfied people than other universities. Looking across the current higher education landscape, there’s an argument to be made that we are actually in a pretty good position: unlike many institutions, we are not facing existential enrollment or financial crises. While the past several years have not been without their challenges, UNLV’s future looks, on the whole, strong.

That being said, to the extent that we could reliably answer either question (just how many people aren’t happy, and how that compares to other institutions), it wouldn’t essentially change how I approach my work as Ombuds. As I said in my application’s cover letter, even one is too many. What I felt on an abstract level last spring when I was applying, I now know on a more visceral and immediate one after a year in the role. We’ve made tremendous strides as an institution, but we can do better.

I’m sometimes asked what percentage of visitors to the office get a positive resolution to their issue. It’s difficult to answer, because usually if the resolution they wanted was within reach, they wouldn’t be talking to the Ombuds. Sure, there have been many clear successes: people who have been able to see past their differences and emerge with, if not always affection for each other, mutual respect and collegiality, and visitors to the office who arrive with a clear outcome in mind and are able to get it.

It is rewarding when I am able to help people get the resolution they want, I won’t deny that. However, in many cases that kind of resolution isn’t possible. I think that my role is even more important then, because when you are facing a true no-win scenario, no amount of well-meaning advice is really going to make a difference. But having someone to sit with you, supporting you as you consider your options, is important. You may be isolated in your workplace and have doubts about your abilities and even your worth. That is when someone who will first listen, then support, you can be most valuable. It’s about being there for those who need it most. I might not have appreciated this aspect of Ombuds work before I took the job, but after a year, it seems almost self-evident.

Unlike most of my posts, I don’t have a particular conflict resolution technique or theory to share, workshop to promote, or accomplishment to announce. But I realize, as I write this, that I am taking my own advice. Earlier this year, I wrote about the role that writing about a conflict can play in understanding it better. About 800 words in, I realize that writing this is my way of processing what I have seen over the past year, and of crystalizing why I find the work I do so important. I feel a bit self-indulgent now, but I suppose this is a way of demonstrating that I practice what I preach.

And I want to take this opportunity to share with everyone at UNLV just how privileged I am to serve you as Ombuds. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with you when times aren’t the best, and proud to play even a small role in helping this great university improve.

That means that I am here for you. Yes, I mean you. If you have been on the fence about making an appointment, there’s no time like the present. As a reminder, there are no barriers to meeting with me, and our discussion is completely confidential, off-the-record, and distinct from any formal process.

To answer the question that you might not have asked, what have I been so busy with? In addition to nearly 300 one-on-one consultations thus far this year, I have been designing and refining over a dozen workshops on a variety of conflict resolution topics. I hope that there is one that would fit your group, and I’d be happy to discuss presenting one, or developing a new one, that will work for you.

One last reminder: if you want to talk, my inbox–and door—Is open.

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