Despite a monthslong effort by Cal Poly Pomona’s Academic Senate urging University President Soraya Coley to appoint someone to fill the position of university ombudsperson, the Office of the President has yet to commit to hiring someone, leaving the position vacant since 2020.
The Office of the University Ombuds was a third-party resource that provided students, faculty and staff confidential and impartial resolutions to problems or concerns. However, after the retirement of former ombudsperson, Lavada Austin, Coley released a statement explaining her decision to leave the position vacant. She noted other resources found in divisions and offices such as Student Affairs, Faculty Affairs and Employee Labor Relations in lieu of an ombuds office.
Since December 2021, the Academic Senate sought to pass a resolution urging Coley to fill the vacant position.
Cynthia Peters, senior communications specialist for Cal Poly Pomona, reiterated the campus’ alternative resources and the creation of new resources to substitute the ombuds office.
“The university is taking the time to re-envision the best way to offer a broader range of assistance,” said Peters. “A lot of resources are being put into Student Affairs. They are creating a one-stop care center that would include some of the ombuds functions.”
The Academic Senate’s resolution, however, does not regard those resources as adequately neutral of the university in the same way the ombuds office once was. The resolution also notes that the lack of an ombuds office can have a particularly adverse effect on underrepresented groups on campus.
“These resources are inadequate as they cannot provide a safe, neutral, confidential, and independent resource for the aforementioned aggrieved parties without fear of retribution, creating a liability for the university,” reads the resolution.
Nicholas Von Glahn, vice chair of the Academic Senate, could not be scheduled for an interview prior to deadline.
Of the 23 California State University campuses, only 11 currently house an ombuds office.
Keith Freesemann, the ombudsperson for Cal State Long Beach, for the past eight years, stressed the significance the position holds for campus life.
“Our goal as an ombuds is to talk through and reframe issues, help people think about their options and the alternatives available to them,” said Freesemann. “There is a variety of things people come into the office for.”
Because of the neutral and informal nature of the position, Freesemann details the numerous concerns he can assist with.
“Some students will come to me about issues related to a conflict with a professor, academic integrity, policy concerns or just looking for resources,” said Freesemann.
However, sometimes the resources an ombudsperson can provide extend beyond the campus.
“There was one case an individual had a bug infestation problem in their apartment and the landlord wasn’t cooperating, so they came to me looking for resources they didn’t even know existed in the city,” added Freesemann.
Freesemann describes the responsibility of an ombudsperson as more than just finding resources.
“There are sometimes a lot of policies behind someone’s issue,” said Freeseman. “I can explain it to students to help them understand the policy and represent their own rights and ideas. It’s very rewarding to see someone continue to move forward and achieve their goals after having a new perspective.”
As for Cal Poly Pomona, Peters maintains that university leadership is committed to providing adequate avenues for the campus community to have conflicts addressed.
“President Coley is working with Provost Brown and Vice President Gonzales to create a working group to look at different models and determine what is needed and see if there is a better resource for conflict resolution,” added Peters.