Two candidates for a new ombudsperson position were scheduled to visit Pomona College this week. One candidate dropped out before arriving on campus, due to reservations about the college’s response to dining hall employees’ effort to unionize, said Alex Garver PO ’12, a member of the search committee.
The ombudsperson, an intermediary who moderates disputes between Pomona community members, will start working in the fall.
“The Ombudsperson provides impartial, confidential, informal and independent dispute resolution services to faculty, staff and students,” the Ombudsperson Search Committee wrote in the job description. “The Ombuds role is to serve as a neutral, supportive resource for discussing problems, concerns or complaints; providing guidance, problem solving or mediating by identifying and evaluating options; and when appropriate, offering referrals to other resources.”
Previous attempts to hire an ombudsperson have failed because of confusion over the official duties of an ombudsperson, said Theater Professor Alma Martinez, a member of the search committee.
“There have been two searches over the past several years that failed,” Martinez said. “The last search, especially, failed because it was unclear among faculty and staff exactly what the role of the ombudsperson was. Questions were asked about situations or expectations were voiced that weren’t necessarily in line with what an ombudsperson does. They’re not an advocate. They’re a facilitator and mediator. That’s why we tried to be sure to inform people.”
The ombudsperson will not only mediate conflicts on campus and direct them to the appropriate offices when they are policy-related, but will also directly report to the president about trends in the types of problems being raised, said Art History Professor Frances Pohl, chair of the search committee.
“The reporting will always be about aggregate data trends. If visitors present with the same kind of problem, they will go to the president and report the trend. It wouldn’t be breaking confidentiality but it would be catching a systemic problem—broader workplace issues that could turn into serious problems in the future.”
Pohl said that it is important to choose an ombudsperson who is capable of navigating the workplace climate at an academic institution.
“Students aren’t employees, and the faculty have a different sort of contractual relationship to the college from the staff members here,” she said. “We want someone who has had some experience mediating different kinds of conflicts that happen within each constituency and across constituencies.”
“The person also has to be bilingual in Spanish. That’s really important because we have so many staff members who are monolingual in Spanish or feel more comfortable speaking Spanish,” Martinez said. “We want the person to have the experience to set up an office, get a charter, marketing and advertising, getting out there.”
Garver expressed optimism about the changes that an ombudsperson could bring to the campus.
“Our current support systems are very formalized, and they’re important to have, but sometimes you’re stuck, and it’s great to have someone outside of the system who can give you resources to address your concerns,” he said.
“The ombudsperson can really help the college figure out how to deal with small things that have slipped through the cracks,” Pohl said. “We don’t have a bullying policy, for example. We are just trying to create a workplace atmosphere of civility and respect. We want to make this college a more civil and respectful place for people to come to work to.”