The University Record, January 8, 2001

Ombuds provide aid, advice for faculty

By Theresa Maddix

Imagine: A faculty member does not receive tenure and wonders whether discrimination was involved. She isn’t ready to file a formal grievance, but after reviewing the department’s history of appointments, she wants to make sure that if this is a case of blatant sex discrimination, it is the last in the department.

Hypothetically, another faculty member receives an e-mail message saying he could receive a large sum of money if he would list his name as a contributing professor on a new dot-com site. All he has to do, it seems, is lend his name and do some consulting once a year. He feels uncomfortable with the murky waters of intellectual property but does not necessarily see a conflict-of-interest issue in this case. He wishs he could find an unbiased individual to help navigate this new realm.

Where can faculty members find an impartial sounding board, someone from whom to seek counsel or to point them in the right direction?

Faculty ombuds stand ready in each of the University’s schools and colleges to help with just such issues. They frequently help faculty members deal with perceived injustices or abuses of discretion. When unnecessary delays and complications in the administration of rules and regulations occur, ombuds help try to get things back on track. Ombuds also provide advice to faculty who feel they are victims of possible inconsistency, unresponsiveness or discrimination at all levels of the University.

At a fall orientation for new ombuds, Jayne Thorson, assistant dean for faculty affairs at the Medical School, described their role this way: “An ombud is a person who colleagues go to for assistance in finding resources. An ombud is not an advocate for the faculty or for the administration, but an advocate for a fair outcome, a just solution.”

Thorson coordinates the seven ombuds in the Medical Center who serve approximately 1,600 faculty. She is sought out not just for sticky situations, but for all manner of resources and information. Along with practical advice, she provides books, articles, misconduct and research guidelines, Standard Practice Guide materials, and information on conflict resolution.

Thorson emphasized to the ombuds-in-training, “It is unusual to have a problem brought to you that is a brand-new problem.”

In fact, many answers to common problems can be found on the Faculty Senate Web site at www.umich.edu/~sacua/Facres/ombov.html.

The Senate site contains names, titles and contact phone numbers for ombuds in each of the University’s schools and colleges.

The page will soon contain a link to a self-directed problem-solving Web site. To review a draft of and comment, visit www.umich.edu/~mandevil.

The Ombuds program for faculty, however, represents only one source in a banquet of help services offered by the University for its member community. Please refer to the chart below for help with initial guidance on specific issues.

The Faculty Ombuds were established upon the recommendation of the Senate Assembly in 1989. Then-Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker called for a faculty ombuds position in the 14 schools and colleges that did not already have such an individual. Working with an ombud does not preclude filing formal grievance procedures within individual units.

The Faculty Senate Office is located at 6048 Fleming Administration Building and can be contacted at (734) 764-0303.