CPP Considering Reinstatement of Ombuds Director

By Teresa Acosta and Ava Uhlack, Feb. 27, 2024

As part of the search for a new director of conflict resolution and ombuds program, Dawn Osborne-Adams, a visiting ombuds, broke down the theoretical competencies the position would require in a dialogue with faculty, staff and students Feb. 20. 

An ombuds acts as an impartial, confidential and informal mediator for conflict resolution between members of the campus community. The ombuds will report directly to the president of the university, Soraya Coley. Cal Poly Pomona’s ombuds position has been vacant since Sept. 2020. 

“An ombuds is both structurally independent from the rest of the institution, reports to the highest level and also is impartial,” said Osborne-Adams, director of the Ombuds Office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “(It) has a mandate to stay in that middle space and not be an advocate for an individual to get, necessarily, what they want.”  

There was skepticism about how to track the impact of the program without collecting identifying data. Osborne-Adams assured the possibility of tracking and reporting impact but didn’t offer any examples.  

Osborne-Adams did offer the guidance of not expecting too much too soon, calling the establishment of the position an evolutionary process based on the needs of the campus community. She also said the individual should not be expected to take on any cases in the beginning but should begin as an observant. 

Rather than a question-and-answer opportunity, Osborne-Adams held what she called a “conversation,” at the end of her presentation. Osborne-Adams analyzed the mission statement from her home school to detail how an ombuds position and program should function at CPP.  

“It’s a place where anybody can come with any issue,” said Osborne-Adams. “They don’t have to worry, ‘Is this a place that I can go?.’ The door is wide open for everyone.”  

An important distinction Osborne-Adams noted between this and other service offices on campus was the issues brought to ombuds must be related to the university. The ombuds office is not a place for personal issues related to homelife. 

Osborne-Adams was invited to CPP to advise and consult with the search and recruitment committee. 

During her two-day visit, she met with multiple colleges and offices to discuss her work in conflict resolution. These conversations were intended to help with the selection process by collecting feedback from the campus community and to give the committee a better idea of what to look for in a candidate. 

Alexander Novoa | The Poly Post

“I know many of you have high hopes and expectations for the new positions; I do, too,” said Jill Hargis, the chair of the search committee and interim chair of political science. “And so, it will be important for us to have a clear understanding of this really unique role in the university.”  

The previous University Ombuds, Lavada Austin, retired in 2020 and the position has remained vacant since then. Coley decided against appointing an interim ombuds and, despite urging from CPP’s Academic Senate, refusing to commit to hiring a new one, according to a Poly Post article released Oct. 2020. 

At the time, Coley directed students to Student Affairs, faculty to Faculty Affairs and staff to the Employee Labor Relations Council for support in the absence of the ombuds, according to the Academic Senate Resolution for reinstating the Ombuds office.  According to the resolution, “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.” 

The aggrieved parties include, but are not limited to, underrepresented minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The search for the new director of the Ombuds office is in its final stages. The finalists will be brought to campus where they will have the opportunity to engage with the campus community, according to Hargis.  

Feature image courtesy of Alexander Novoa.

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