How much is an Ombudsman Office worth? Apparently not much, at least not at Portland State. Ombuds provides students an impartial, relaxed and safe environment to receive assistance for various issues or problems in their lives.
How much is an Ombudsman Office worth? Apparently not much, at least not at Portland State. Ombuds provides students an impartial, relaxed and safe environment to receive assistance for various issues or problems in their lives. However, at the end of this term, PSU’s Ombuds Office will be closing its doors for good—a cost reduction measure by the school, as a result of tough financial conditions that have befallen the Oregon University System.
When money becomes tight, there’s increased pressure on positions such as the Ombudsman to show relevance and impact in order to be considered a key part of the organization. It appears as if the department just couldn’t make the cut. Various student issues will now be handled by the Office of Student Affairs; specifically, the Dean of Student Life will assume many of the vacated responsibilities. Also, a new position is in the process of being finalized that will act as a liaison to help guide people in the necessary directions—essentially, an Ombudsman Lite: similar duties, but less qualified.
Current Ombudsman president Sandy McDermott said she’s worried that some students may fall through the cracks, but emphasizes that most faculty and staff are always willing to help students, and that doesn’t have to be packaged in a formal way. And with the Ombuds mediator gone, departments will inevitably have to become more accountable for their own in-house problems, and perhaps that will put more pressure on everyone to get it right the first time around. Either way, whenever there’s a major change an adjustment period will be needed and there will be inevitable trial and error.
Vice provost of Student Affairs Jackie Balzer said the university will add staff strategically throughout the campus in units and programs that are focused on student access in order to compensate for the loss. Traditionally, Ombuds serves as a single point of contact for everyone. For instance, if a student goes to a faculty member with an issue of a personal nature and the faculty is unsure of how to proceed, that staff member could then refer the student to Ombuds for further advice. There’s also the issue of neutrality and confidentiality, such as a case where a student might not feel comfortable discussing their problems with a faculty member. Furthermore, many departments aren’t currently aware of all their resources, meaning a student could get bounced around from one department to the next and never really have their problem resolved.
A concern expressed by many faculty members has been whether or not the front-line staff in their departments have adequate conflict resolution skills and experience to deal with the tough, emotional issues that students will present to them. Emotional breakdowns in the office are common. It’s why McDermott always has a box of tissues and a bowl of candy fully stocked by her desk.
When people are doing their jobs every day, they can forget that they’re dealing with people’s actual lives-—the human side is often lost. What students with problems sometimes need is a caring shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear to listen.
Ombuds is essentially being closed because it was only being weighed in terms of its monetary value, which is no way to measure the benefits of such a service. Instead, the worth of Ombuds should be weighed in terms of how it profits the mental and emotional health of the PSU community. “Our value is not always measured in up-front dollars and cents,” McDermott told the Vanguard last month. “It’s a hidden revenue.”
Virginia Vickery Editor-in-Chief Corie Charnley News Editor
Nicholas Kula Arts & Culture Editor Richard Oxley Opinion Editor
Kevin Fong Sports Editor Kristin Pugmire Copy Chief