May 04, 2012

University of Missouri–Kansas City Ombuds Recommends Expanding Her Office

In her second annual report, UMKC's part-time Faculty Ombudsperson Nancy E. Day renewed her advice that the university consider hiring a full-time Ombudsperson for all constituents and consolidating separate ADR functions. In addition to these recommendations, Day reported on the activities of her office, which included handling 14 visitor matters, a significant increase from 6 in her first year.

Day's comments about ADR at her campus are insightful, compelling, and worth reprinting in their entirety: 
As I indicated last year, my network of other University ombudspersons suggests that UMKC is relatively under-served in alternative dispute resolution services. I am the only person serving faculty, at a quarter-time appointment. If the number of visitors to my office increases, either more faculty ombuds or a longer appointment time may be necessary.

Further, most universities with well-developed ADR programs serve students, staff, and faculty. Currently we may have some “holes” in service availability, particularly for students. While all constituents (faculty, staff, students, external constituents) are served by the UMKC Hotline for isolated questions and concerns, this service is generally (and appropriately) limited to quick answers and short interchanges. Mediation Services serves faculty and staff, but not students. The UMKC Counseling Center is the only function besides the Hotline serving students (as well as faculty and staff). Dr. Barkis, Director of Counseling Services, reports that the Counseling Center has a substantial waiting list, comprised mostly of students. While some UMKC schools or programs offer support to their students, an inability to go beyond one’s school for advice in sensitive matters may be insufficient.

Thus, it seems that students in particular may not be fully served. Given that retention improvement is a critical goal for UMKC, having ADR services available to them, particularly ombuds services that help define problems and identify strategies to work through them, may be beneficial in keeping students productive and engaged. It is likely that some waiting for Counseling Center services could be more efficiently and effectively supported through ombuds services. An additional part-time faculty ombuds appointment focused on students should be considered.

Over the long-term, these suggestions might be considered:
  • Hiring a full-time ombudsperson designated to address all UMKC internal constituents (students, staff, and faculty). This role is typically found in universities with sophisticated ADR operations. 
  • Consolidating ADR functions in the University, namely ombudsperson(s), Mediation Services, and perhaps the Hotline. All have the need for confidentiality, and locating them all in one off-site location would facilitate communication among ADR staff and create a confidential, safe environment.

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