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Ombudsperson hiring enters final stages

By Kevin Hong

The College is entering the final stages of hiring an ombudsperson in charge of resolving disputes and conflicts among individuals on campus.

Two candidates came to campus this week for interviews with students, staff and administrators and to give a sample workshop. One last finalist will be here on Monday.

The process for hiring an ombudsperson has been going on for several years. Sparked by controversy surrounding the dismissal of a Student Affairs employee in 2008, a faculty committee and an outside review of the College both recommended hiring an ombudsperson as one step to ease tensions between faculty and staff and the administration. The ombudsperson would also provide an avenue for voicing concerns that would stop short of filing a formal complaint.

One candidate, Susan Park, visited campus Tuesday. She is currently doing dispute resolution work for FEMA, and has had experience as an ombudsperson at the University of Hawaii and the University of Texas. She also spent several years as a practicing attorney.

On Wednesday, Annie Tucker came to Grinnell. She has nearly two decades of experience as a professional mediator and is the executive director for Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa. She provides mediation and training for government, non-profits, private agencies and individuals.

Monday brings the arrival of Chinyere Ukabiala, an adjunct faculty member at Drake University Law School who has spent much of the last decade working for non-profit organizations providing free legal and mediation services in the Des Moines area.

The search committee initially went over 30 to 40 applications, then made a short list and did phone interviews with eight people before shortening the list to three finalists approved by President Raynard Kington. For the final decision, the search committee will gather information from many different people who have met with the candidates, and then they will process that information to produce a list of the pros and cons of each of the individual candidates. They will give that information to Kington to make the final decision.

The College is seeking someone who is proactive and can jump start the office. “The ombudsperson is not under any department, it’s not necessarily under any vice president or any other overarching office,” said Sivan Philo ’13, SGA VPSA and a member of the search committee. “But it is very difficult to define the line between getting to know the campus well enough to understand how it operates, and doing that in a very quick and effective manner, and also maintaining the neutrality, because this person is going to be mediating a lot of the conflicts, and is going to be involved in a variety of situations as a mediator and a neutral party that would require them to be as impartial as possible.”

The ombudsperson position is a job that demands strong interpersonal skills, which is something that is difficult to evaluate from a paper resume. “Being able to meet these people and see how they interact with a wide variety of constituencies on campus is important,” said Mark Schneider, Physics professor and member of the committee. “Because this is the beginning of an office, we want to have somebody who has the ability to envision this and start it up from scratch as opposed to somebody who is just coming into something that already existed and has a tradition here.”

In the first two sample training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, the candidates gave workshops on conflict resolution. The session on Wednesday was an interactive discussion about problems that happen during conversations, such as when one person is not listening. Tucker, the candidate presenting, first led a brainstorm of signs that people show when they are not listening. She then conducted a role-playing game in which people were assigned into groups of two. One person would talk about something important, and the partner would not listen. After a one-minute conversation, the two people switched roles. Tucker then led a discussion about how people feel when they are not being paid attention to and the possible ways to improve the situation. Park gave a similar presentation Tuesday. Around 30 people attended each, and evaluation forms were filled out at the end.

The timeframe for a final hiring decision has not been decided yet, but the administration hopes to fill the position by next semester.

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