Helping people “move on”
What is a student to do with a grade or financial aid conflict? They can take it to the Ombuds’ office, which provides confidential mediation on campus. Located in 169 Cramer Hall, the office consists of John Wanjala, Ombuds person, and Sandy McDermott, assistant to the Ombuds.
“Ombud” is a Swedish noun meaning “representative”, but has become better known in English to mean a neutral third party, which is exactly what the Ombuds office is. It is not an office for formal complaints, but a confidential place where an issue of unfairness is worked out.
Wanjala said that Ombuds is important in the PSU community because “It is confidential. It is impartial. We’re neutral. We don’t take sides.” Ombuds is an office independent from all other offices on campus.
Ombuds handles mostly students, who make up 75 percent of their “customers” (the service is free), but is available to faculty and staff as well. The most common complaint has to do with petition processes. If the petition is denied, Ombuds can also help find a recourse. Another common situation is general miscommunication, especially conflicts between students and faculty or staff. Ombuds helps with issues from grade disputes to financial aid to reinstatement.
Amy Ross, executive assistant to the president of PSU, says that she makes many referrals, usually students, to the Ombuds’ office, because they help students understand their options. Students get overwhelmed especially with appeal processes, committees and forms. “That can be confusing for people,” Ross said. She emphasized that their work is very confidential, and was positive concerning the work that Ombuds does. “They are very good at getting people talking again, and keeping small problems small,” Ross said.
Wanjala likes to say that at Ombuds can help anyone “move on.” He said that many people get sent with their issue from one office to another, and they end up going around in circles. According to Wanjala, “No issue is too small” for them to help at Ombuds.
Any student can call in to make an appointment (they accept walk-ins, but they may be out on a case).
After explaining the problem, Ombuds will ask the student how they want to resolve it. They will contact the other party, if necessary, though they will first suggest that the student do so personally. They will develop options and go over them so that the student can choose one that will be most beneficial. Ombuds can even set up mediation between the two parties with a representative present.
McDermott said that “Even though we are not a formal report office, we will follow up on complaints the best we can.” They advocate fairness, not an individual or group.The Ombuds’ phone number is 503-725-5901, and their Web site address is http://www.ess.pdx/omb/.