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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm
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External Review Released to All

On Nov. 20, the Outside Review of Grinnell College’s Policies Governing Hiring, Performance Review and Disciplinary Actions was released to the general campus. The report highlighted staffing issues, ranging from hiring procedures to corrective actions taken by supervisors, and made several recommendations, including recommended language for new policies and broad, overarching changes to the College’s employment and workplace philosophy.
“The primary purpose of the review and subsequent report is to review, assess and improve Grinnell’s policies regarding hiring…performance reviews and the employment related actions that might arise from those performance reviews,” the report stated.
The review, which was conducted by three administrators from Washington and Lee University, Wells College and Williams College, grew out of concerns “about the dismissal of an employee in Student Affairs and…questions about hiring practices in the Student Affairs division” raised by a group of faculty members in 2008 according to the report. Amy Barnes, Anne Lunquist and Martha Tetrault were on campus from Oct. 7-9, interviewing administrators, faculty, students and employees in a variety of departments across campus after immersing themselves in reports and documents relating to staffing and employment issues at the college.
The review found that the procedures and guidelines surrounding employment at the College were in need of revamping. The majority of issues surrounded the structuring of the College’s Human Resources department, the ambiguity and inadequacy of the staff handbook and general confusion and distrust amongst employees regarding feedback on job performance.
“Trust needs to be rebuilt,” the report stated in its conclusion, citing “long-standing and deeply held frustrations and concerns on the part of many who work at Grinnell.”
“You don’t have to look very hard to find there’s a certain amount of distrust on campus,” said Chair of Faculty Mark Schneider. He added that people are wary of complaining about workplace issues. “[People think] ‘If I say anything about this I’ll be in trouble in X way’,” said Schneider.
An employee of the College, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of their employment, said that they found the manner in which some employment issues were handled, specifically referring to the same situation in Student Affairs cited by the report, “totally unprofessional.”
Dean of Students Travis Greene and Vice President for Student Affairs Houston Dougharty, both of whom were employed in Student Affairs at the time of the aforementioned “dismissal in Student Affairs” were not reached for comment regarding the review and report. The S&B did not reach a member from Human Resources for comment.
The employee added that policies and employee reviews were rarely written down, and often arbitrary in nature, creating a culture with little transparency and a wide range of negative feelings emanating from everyday interactions between employees and supervisors. The review’s suggestions aligned with this viewpoint, encouraging the implementation of more concrete and clear policies and expectations.
“Stuff should be written down. It’d be nice if you could start your job and not have to recreate the wheel,” the employee said.
In general, the reviewers’ findings were expected and, overall, well received.
“The suggestions they gave us are excellent,” said the President of the College, Russell K. Osgood.
Besides offering suggestions to ease current tensions, the reviewers noted that hiring a new ombudsperson, or an outside source employed by the college who would investigate employee complaints, review college employment policies and mediate disputes, could offer support and a lend helpful viewpoint in future situations.
The College does currently have an ombudsperson—Schneider, who has that role as part of his position as Chair of the Faculty.  But Schneider points out that he is faced with conflicting interests. 
“It’s hard for the chair of the faculty to have that [neutral] role because the chair of the faculty is by definition an advocate for the faculty,” Schneider said.  “The chair as the sole person doing that seems problematic to me.”
A 12-member Ad Hoc Ombuds Committee, which consists of faculty, staff and students, is currently in the early stage of soliciting the views of the campus community about an ombudsperson.  A link to their confidential survey will be available in the coming days under the “ombuds” tab on Pioneerweb.
The independent ombudsperson would serve as a neutral party, who does not have any interests in issues people raise other than from their role as ombudsperson.  “Right now the only possible way is to lodge a formal complaint.  It’s a frightening thing to do,” said Tammy Nyden, chair of the committee and Assistant Professor of Philosophy.  With an independent ombudsperson, on the other hand, members of the campus community would be able to go to him or her confidentially to seek advice and be informed about formal options to lodge a complaint about an issue if necessary.      
The committee was formed as a result of a recommendation from the Faculty Governance Committee last spring, which itself was formed after the faculty administration rifts emanating from the departure of Associate Dean and Director of Residence Life Sheree Andrews last year. In September 2009, the Faculty Organizing Committee, SGA, the Support Staff Relations Committee and the administrative faculty elected their representatives to the Ombuds Committee. The first official meeting of the Ombuds Committee was on Nov. 6 of this year.
Nyden identified three possible recommendations the committee might make—modifying the current form of ombudsperson, as a role of the chair of the faculty, to be in line with International Ombudsman Association standards, abolishing the ombudsperson position completely or bringing in an independent ombudsperson.
“The events relating to Student Affairs last year certainly helped spark this conversation,” said Schneider.  But he added, “Had we had a robust ombuds person last year I don’t think it would have made any difference.”
Ethan Struby ’10, a member of the ombuds committee and SGA Administrative Coordinator, also did not characterize the ombuds committee as completely a response to last year’s Student Affairs controversy.  “Some of the faculty realized we need this as a result of the Student Affairs,” said Struby.  “There are a lot of legitimate concerns that have nothing to do with Student Affairs. The whole thing is not meant to be sticking it to Student Affairs.”
In fact, Student Affairs has a representative on the ombuds committee, Kim Hinds-Brush, Associate Director of Residence Life and Orientation.
However, Hinds-Brush does not think an ombudsperson would help with transparency. “I don’t think it’s an ombuds person’s job to help with transparency,” Hinds-Brush said. “[Because they are confidential], whatever the ombuds person knows they don’t share.”  
Yeworkwha Belachew, an ombudsperson for Oberlin College, said that since she was made Ombudsperson in 2000, dialogue has opened up on the campus. “If you have an ombuds, I think you’ll benefit a lot. You’ll reduce the cost of conflict and that is a guarantee,” Belachew said, referring directly to Grinnell.
According to Nyden, mistrust is an obstacle that the ombuds committee faces in trying to get campus opinions on the role of an ombudsperson. “There was concern among staff about whether there would be retribution if they talked about this,” Nyden said. “The people who most need an ombudsperson are the least likely to tell us.” This is a reason why the committee is putting out a confidential online survey. There is also a locked mailbox (#5917) that people can use to send confidential feedback to the committee.
The committee is scheduled to make a recommendation by the end of the Spring 2010 semester. The committee’s final recommendation will not necessarily take effect.  What, if any, changes will be made will ultimately be the decision of the current or next President of the College, according to Nyden.

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