It’s pretty common to have a moment when you wish you could talk over a problem or concern with someone who is neutral. Especially when that person can help you think about and assess a range of alternatives available to you.
Appalachian’s Ombuds Office provides a confidential environment where you can do just that – whether you’re a faculty member, a student, a parent of a student or staff member. Dr. James Barnes sat down in Appalachian’s podcast studio to outline some information about the services this office provides.
Interviewer Megan Hayes: It’s pretty common to have a moment when you wish you could talk over a problem or concern with someone who is neutral. Especially when that person can help you think about and access a range of alternatives available to you.
Hayes: Appalachian’s Ombuds Office provides a confidential environment where you can do just that – whether you’re a faculty member, a student, a parent of a student or staff member. Dr. James Barnes sat down in the university’s podcast studio to outline the information about the services this office provides. And he began by giving a brief overview of what he does in the Ombuds Office.
Dr. James Barnes: What do I do? Try to provide an environment where anyone – faculty, student, staff, parents – a place where they can come and comfortably talk about an issue. Universities and other organizations can be very complex and people can be stuck at times, not knowing what to do or who to talk to about an issue or problem. And my job is to help them navigate.
Hayes: Who do you help navigate that system?
Dr. Barnes: Well, on campus it’s faculty, students, staff and we’ve included parents who occasionally have questions to ask.
Hayes: How does what the Ombuds Office does differ from other services that are available here on campus to all those constituents?
Dr. Barnes: The easy answer and the hard answer is, and the distinguishing feature for me is, the office is completely confidential. There’s no record kept of discussions other than the nature of the discussion. A person who doesn’t want to identify themselves publicly for any particular complaint or problem or issue can get some initial advice from our office: where to go, what to do without there being any identifying characteristics of that person. So it’s a comfortable place to go and talk about things that may not be comfortable being discussed somewhere else.
Dr. Barnes: The point is simply to make it as informal as possible. We don’t give legal advice, so formally we’re not decision makers, as would be the case if you went to Student Conduct or the Equity Office where a particular legal issue may be involved.
Hayes: What if I’m a faculty member and I’m teaching and one of my students complains about me to you. Do I ever know about that? What happens on that side of things?
Dr. Barnes: It would depend on the nature of the complaint. In many cases they’re very, very simple. It’s a matter of telling the student who they need to talk to or telling the faculty member to talk to the chair or have a conversation with the student in general about this particular problem. It may be general, it may be specific. You have to sort that out. It’s often a simple problem that can be dealt with in 30 seconds. For example, “it wasn’t on the syllabus,” but the syllabus was updated and the student didn’t catch the update. The idea is to be confidential and try to help the resolution of the problem.
Hayes: It almost seems like a lot of what you do from what you said so far, is just to help keep things from escalating.
Dr. Barnes: That’s a good way of putting it. Yes.
Hayes: Because if people can talk about things or follow established channels that are already there, then maybe things won’t get a little bit out of hand.
Dr. Barnes: Yeah, part of it is simply saying, “Oh, for that you need to go talk to...” So it’s basically trying to use good sense as much as anything else and work around those issues.
Hayes: Say I have an appointment and I come in and I sit down. What happens? Do I need to fill out paperwork?
Dr. Barnes: There’s a minimal amount of paperwork that goes into a locked box when our consultation is completed, when the issue is resolved then that goes into the shredder. And all I keep as a record is one person came to talk to me about this. I am required to report in a very generic way to the chancellor, only in kind of aggregate terms, how many cases involve an issue, or perhaps trends that may need to be examined, but without any specific individual characteristics or information.
Hayes: One of the things I’ve heard you say is, “If you’re not sure, go ahead and come in anyway.”
Dr. Barnes: Oh sure! Yeah, that’s when I think you probably do need the service, when you’re not sure.
Hayes: So, you talked a little bit about the things that you do. I’m interested in the things that you don’t do as well. So people can kind of get a sense of what to expect if they were to go to your office, you know knock on your door and say “Hey! I need some help with x, y or z.”
Dr. Barnes: It’s hard to say what I don’t do because that would depend on what they’re bringing. I don’t turn people away and say “Oh, that’s not my business.” I think my business is to help them figure out what’s next.
Hayes: Let’s talk a little bit of housekeeping. Where is the office? And how do people access it?
Dr. Barnes: There are a couple of different ways you can get in touch: One is the website which has a mechanism that allows an appointment to be made online.
Hayes: And that’s ombuds.appstate.edu?
Dr. Barnes: That’s it. There’s a phone number, 262-2559. The office is in I.G. Greer. And an easy way to remember it, it’s the first door on the right as you enter from the mall.
Hayes: So this is a pretty new office on campus, right?
Dr. Barnes: It is still in the works. We started probably officially sometime last year. It was a long process of finding space, which I finally have, and then getting that space accessible and usable. So we really this semester are open for business in the fullest sense of the word.
Hayes: Well, thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it.
Dr. Barnes: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Hayes: So… ombuds.appstate.edu and the phone number…
Dr. Barnes: The phone number is 262-2559.