Why Not the Visit the Ombuds? | From the Ombuds

OCT. 24, 2022

Ombuds Week, which UNLV celebrated two weeks ago, provided many opportunities for members of the campus community to engage with the Ombuds Office. Whether it was at our Difficult Conversations roleplay workshop or with our Escape Room, students, faculty, and staff got to learn more about healthy ways to resolve conflict. They also got to see that the office and its resources are open to all.

And the Ombuds Office is not only accessible—it is also available to use without any stigma. Using the office is not a sign of poor leadership or maladjustment. Still, I have sensed hesitation in some quarters on campus about visiting the office or making use of our services. I understand that not everyone needs to use the office; they may be in a great situation or feel that they are successfully managing the conflicts around them. But for those who are unhappy or who would like to explore different ways of handling the frictions of their days, I don’t see any compelling reasons not to visit the Ombuds, and many good reasons to do so.

To recap, the office is governed by four principles: confidentiality, independence, impartiality, and informality. Adherence to these principles provides numerous protections for visitors to the office, and virtually eliminates any potential negative consequences.

To protect the confidentiality of those who visit the office, no individually identifiable records are kept. I don’t even take notes while we talk. The only data we collect is nonspecific demographic information that is not linked to a specific visitor.

What’s more, as Ombuds, I am forbidden from revealing who visits the office or what they talk about, as are all Ombuds Office staff. In other words, the only way that anyone will find out that you talked with the Ombuds is if you tell them. No one else will.

Since the office is informal, it is outside all formal administrative and disciplinary processes. That means that meeting with the ombuds leaves no trace in any personnel file and no record at all. By coming to the office, you don’t start any other process or limit your options in any way. It is simply a chance to talk with an independent, impartial third party about what you are facing.

In a one-on-one meeting with the Ombuds, you can explore what avenues are open to remedy whatever it is you are unhappy with. Often, people learn about policies directly impacting their situation that they had no idea existed. In this way, they gain clarity about the system in which we all operate.

Another reason for speaking with the Ombuds is that doing so brings no obligation on your part. You don’t have to make a formal filing, produce evidence, or take any other steps. It really is as simple as walking into an office (or clicking a Google Meet link) and spending an hour speaking with a nonjudgmental person who is entirely outside of the administrative apparatus.

For example, imagine a hypothetical employee who is unhappy with their most recent evaluation. Talking with the Ombuds, they can share what they would like change and discuss their relationship with their supervisor. They can clarify just what it is they want to get out of the situation—it could be they want a commendable changed to an excellent (or a does not meet standards to meets standards) or they want to know why the supervisor hadn’t spoken with them about these issues earlier. They can review the formal steps available to them to challenge the evaluation and explore informal resolutions (like speaking with the supervisor about changing language in the evaluation). Above all, they can figure things out for themselves. Often, by speaking with someone outside of the immediate situation, the visitor sees something that hadn’t seen before.  My goal is to help visitors to the office be better informed about their options and gain more clarity about where they are and where they would like to be.

Similarly, a student who is struggling with an interpersonal work, residential, or classroom situation can find a better perspective and consider what taking different approaches might mean.

There’s got to be a catch, you might be thinking. There isn’t, as long as you appreciate the role of an organizational ombuds. Visiting the ombuds won’t automatically set into motion events that will “fix” your problem for you. Rather, it will help you better advocate for yourself and have a better idea of the range of possibilities that are open to you.

In the language of video games, seeing the ombuds doesn’t magically switch on easy mode. The best analogy is that it provides pop-up tooltips or a playthrough guide. An organizational ombuds won’t pick up your controller and finish your game for you, but they can be a resource that helps you figure out where you need to go and what you need to do in order to get to a good ending.

Still, you might have concerns that somehow, someone will find out that you visited the Ombuds and that you will be retaliated against. If this were to happen, it would be a direct violation of university policy. The Ombuds Charter specifically says that, “All members of the constituencies served by the Office have the right to consult the Office without reprisal. The University and its agents will not retaliate against individuals for consulting with the Office.”

Because the Ombuds Office is outside of administrative channels, leaves no individual records, and begins no proceedings, there is no real risk in speaking with the Ombuds. In the absolute worst-case scenario, you spent an hour talking about your issue and made no progress. Even then, I would argue, you learned that you are facing a difficult problem, and that you haven’t missed any easy solutions, so you haven’t come away empty-handed.

Best of all, the Ombuds Office is accessible, with almost all meetings scheduled within a week, and some on the same day. And, if I haven’t made this clear enough already, whether you are a student, faculty member, or other UNLV employee, the Ombuds Office has many resources available to help you through any stage of a conflict. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, it is an excellent zero-barrier first stop.  If you would like to talk privately and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is open.

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