Dave welcomes Appalachian State University's new Ombudsperson, Bob Hill to the studio. The two discuss exactly what an Ombudsperson is and share ways in which the University Ombuds Office can be a resource for the campus community.
Dave Blanks: So I’m visiting today with Bob Hill and Bob is from the Ombuds office and he’s the university’s ombuds person, am I saying this right? Ombuds person Bob?
Bob Hill: You are thanks. You could say Ombudsmen, Ombuds person, Ombud
DB: Okay so there’s a few ways that you can refer to it
DB: So can you tell me a little about who you are Bob?
BH: Sure thank you. I have been at Appalachain for 24 years now teaching psychology full time. I am a tenure professor of psychology. I am a clinical psychologist by training so I have practiced also for many years and also teach psychotherapy and assessment in our graduate program at Appalachian. That’s relevant because that skill set of being a clinical psychologist of course I think is helpful in the role of University Ombud Person
DB: Absolutely so what brings you to this position? Did you elect to become this on your own or…?
BH: I was interested in the position when someone pointed out the upcoming vacancy to me as the previous Ombud, Jim Barnes, retired. Looking at the role, I realized that it would use my skill set well and also it would be nice to do something different at this point in my career at the University. So I was fortunate enough to be interviewed and eventually hired as the new Ombud person starting in August of 2016
DB: Okay great. So you’ve only been doing it for just…
BH: A month
DB: A month?!
DB: How are you liking it so far?
BH: I’m liking it thank you. I’m learning a lot.
DB: Are you still teaching?
BH: I’m teaching yes. My role would be to teach one course in psychology per semester and be Ombud the rest of the time.
DB: Alright. Could you please explain to our listeners what is an Ombud person?
BH: I’ll be glad to because many of your listeners won’t know. In fact, that’s usually the first thing I need to do is explain my position. What is an Ombud?
BH: An Ombud is kind of a problem solving resource for the university community. It is designed for any faculty, staff or student to come to to have a informal and confidential resource whose independent of whatever place they’re at in the University to help sort out problems that come up in the course of their path through the university. This includes conflicts with colleagues, issues with the faculty, problems in a department where something isn’t equitable or doesn’t feel fair or in a staff role where they feel like some policy isn’t being adhered to that should be or they’re not being treated in a way that feels right. The Ombuds role is to be a resource for people who struggle through what they might do or how to proceed, what resources are available and why what they have already tried hasn’t worked and for that to be confidential.
DB: Confidentiality is a big part of it. We’ll get into that in just a minute. Where did...it is a little bit of an usual word, Ombud.
BH: This tradition started, as I understand it, in 1809 via the Swedish Parliament who appointed an Ombud person in order to protect the rights of the citizens with respect to the actions of the Parliament. That led to the tradition being created in many organizations, many universities, many healthcare entities and eventually at Appalachian three years ago. It’s a nice resource that has been adopted across the world.
DB: I didn’t realize it was an international organization.
BH: It is. In fact I am a member of the International Ombuds Association
DB: Oh wow, okay. Well I’m glad it is a resource for people at Appalachian. Let’s hear a little more about it. So who takes advantage of the services of the Ombud person?
BH: Faculty staff as well as students. In fact, I’ve seen all three parties just this week who have concerns.
DB: What kind of concerns are people bringing to you? You know, we did say confidentiality is a big part of it.
BH: Yes we did. So everyone who comes to the office has that expectation of confidentiality. I’ll keep all identities protected. They’ll remain anonymous, but there are concerns about being treated fairly, about being maligned by others, having a policy that should be applied in a factual or fair way not being applied that way, struggling with what to do with a faculty member where they feel that they can’t speak up due to the fact that they are being graded or evaluated by that faculty member. Those and other kinds of issues come to me from various parties on campus.
DB: So issues great and small sometimes?
DB: Why would someone choose to come to your office instead of going, for instance to the Office of Equity and Diversity or Dean of Students, for example, or the Office of the Provost?
BH: Good question. I think that many people don’t know where to go when they have a particular issue and they’re worried about having to identify themselves, create a paper record, go on record period. So the Ombud can be a resource that they know will be confidential and they can talk about what they thought should they go to the Office of Equity and Diversity or should they go to the Provost Office or should that go to the Dean of Students or should they go to the Office of Student Conduct. Where should they go? So the Ombud can help sort out and identify resources they might want to turn to, think through the implications, consider their reservations and consider their concerns before they move forward.
DB: So can you list some of the things that you do?
BH: Well we touched on some of it already. Part of my job is to be familiar with the campus resources that are available to faculty staff and students. So I’m kind of a knowledge base for what resources are available and so I’ve been meeting with the various parties on campus, for instance the Dean of Students or the Director of Equity and Diversity and Compliance and the Human Resource Department, etc. I sit down and listen and I provide some perspective taking, some sorting through alternative solutions, considering resource options and kind of review what the person has done, what they might do, how they might proceed and offer myself as a resource in the process.
DB: Okay gotcha. So what are some things that you do not do in this role?
BH: Well we don’t do several things that are worth noting. We don’t maintain records that would identify a person because we wanna insure confidentiality. We don’t represent individuals in a formal proceeding. So we don’t act as an attorney, for instance. We don’t do formal investigations. We don’t do psychological counseling. I cannot offer legal advice. I cannot testify at a formal hearing. I cannot revise or change University policies.
DB: Can you walk me through the process if i’ve decided I want to get in touch with you, the Ombud person. Do I call and make an appointment? Do I just pop over?
BH: Both. Either. Calling would likely be a good way to contact the office and leave a voicemail if you don’t get an answer. The number is 828-262-2559. Also you can email me at email@example.com
DB: Okay, or you can just pop over?
BH: You can stop in.
DB: Let’s mention now, we’ll mention it at the end too, where is the office physically located?
BH: I have an office at IG Geer. If you are entering Geer from the center of the mall, it would be entering the first entrance and then it’s the first door on the right. That’s 236 A, by the way.
DB: Okay that’s 236 A at Geer. So after you get in there, knock on the door, get inside...?
BH: Hmm, if I’m available, I often have a administrative assistant there, if I’m available I would be glad to meet with you at that moment. Talk behind a closed door and speak confidentially with you. If I’m not available, the administrative assistant will be glad to take your information and I will get back to you.
DB: Is it usually a quick conversation? I guess it depends on the topic and the person’s problem
BH: It does. It could be twenty minutes or an hour and a half. It could be more than one meeting that may be needed to help sort out what’s going on and what to do next. It may be that they want to gather information and come back, they might want to use me as a contact person as they talk to someone else. There’s a lot of ways that this could play out.
DB: Are people coming to you just to vent. Are they doing that? I know that you’ve been doing it for only a short while really, but do you see that happening? I mean people know that you have a psychology background.
BH: Right, so I don’t offer therapy or counseling in this role, but I do offer an objective ear that is patient and supportive. I think, ideally it’s helpful in sorting through what’s going on with someone whose objective, whose neutral and just not in the game.
DB: Excellent. It’s hard to find that in life sometimes.
BH: Yeah, I’m not on anyone’s side.
DB: What’s the advantage, and we covered this to a certain extent, but what’s the advantage of that the Ombud person provides for the Appalachain State University.
BH: Oh thanks. I think that it’s a great resource for faculty, staff and student and it’s because this is a truly neutral party that is not going to report them and they can come and discuss concerns. So it’s a safe resource. And then one of the other functions of the Ombuds office is as the office hear about concerns from departments or campus staff offices or staff and faculty over time that really raise red flags the Ombud will keep the reportee anonymous, but eventually report to the Provost Office what might be important information about the integrity and concerns of the University. So it’s a feedback mechanism. It is a conduit of information up to the administration about what they might want to address on campus long term.
DB: So if you’re notices trends?
BH: Exactly. A whole lot of complaints from one unit or a department for instance would probably warrant the Ombud providing that information to the Office of the Provost while keeping parties anonymous.
DB: You’re part of the Office of Provost or?
BH: I report to the Provost and that is without identifying individuals.
DB: I think that we already answered this as well, but we will ask this out right. Will there be a permanent record of the conversations that you have with people?
BH: No. I keep contact information only as long as I’m working with the individual and then after that the records are eliminated and just aggregate data; faculty staff or student and reason for visit are accumulated over time just to document the business of the office.
DB: So will a faculty chair, supervisor or supervisor or faculty member find out if I consulted you? Is it possible for anyone to find that out?
BH: They will not.
DB: Alright, very confidential. It is not always confidential though,is that correct?
BH: Thank you for bringing up the limits. Let me just address them briefly. The only exception to confidentiality would be if a person were threatening harm to themselves or others and that were serious then I would likely need to get others involved to protect the safety of those concerned. And if there was some report of a child or dependent, like an elder, being harmed or abused, then I would need to report that. Then also if there is a victim of sexual violence on campus, there is a duty to report what I know of that.
DB: Okay. If I determine that I would like to get in touch with you, we did cover this but let’s do it again, how do you make an appointment at your office?
BH: Either contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
DB: O.M.B.U.D.S. at appstate dot E.D.U
BH: Yes, thanks. Or by phone 828-262-2559
DB: And you’re in IG Geer?
BH: 236A, first door on your right as you go in to IG Geer from the Mall.
DB: Is there a resource for people to find out more about your office?
BH: Well thanks, there’s a website. You bet. It’s ombuds.appstate.edu
DB: Excellent. Well Bob, is there anything that you would like to cover that you would like to cover?
BH: Not that I’m thinking of Dave. Thanks so much for the opportunity to inform the campus of this resource.
DB: Absolutely, thanks for your time. Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate it