“I like conflict. It presents an opportunity for me to make a difference,” said Conchita Franco Serri, who was recently hired as Pomona College’s ombudsperson. “In conflict, we find opportunity for organizational change.”
Pomona President David Oxtoby announced Serri’s hiring in an e-mail to the college community March 27. The decision was the culmination of a search process that began in October, the third attempt the college has made in four years to hire an ombudsperson.
“Often you search two or three times for an important position,” said art and art history professor Frances Pohl, the search committee’s chair. “You want to make sure you have the right person.”
The ombudsperson’s role is to be a neutral, confidential, informal resource for mediation, conflict resolution and advice.
“The intent will be to increase the level of communication that takes place across different constituencies of the college,” Pohl said.
“By offering a new forum for resolving conflict and sharing private information in a confidential and neutral venue, I hope to improve the quality of both the workplace environment and the student experience,” Serri said.
Serri currently works as an independent consultant, having founded her own company, Serri Compliance Training, in 2000.
Serri served as Director of Affirmative Action at Santa Clara University from 1991 to 2007. There, she also performed a number of ombuds functions.
“I would investigate harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and whistleblower issues, but would remain confidential for everything else,” Serri said.
A native of Puerto Rico, Serri is bilingual in English and Spanish. The search committee wanted constituents who may feel most comfortable conversing in Spanish to be able to approach Serri, Pohl said.
She also “had ombuds experience, which not that many of the candidates had,” Pohl said.
Serri’s experience will help the college fit the new position into the existing administrative structure, search committee member Alex Garver PO ’12 said.
“She would be tasked with starting a new office at Pomona,” he said. “She was able to tell us what she would need, which was very helpful.“
“She went into very specific detail about how she would want to maintain confidentiality,” Garver said.
Serri said that the ombuds profession is governed by a relatively strict set of guidelines.
“I would have some limitations in regards to union issues,” she said.
Specifically, she said, the ombudsperson may not inquire into the application or interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement.
“I can help with issues not covered by the contract, such as communication issues,” Serri said.
As the final stage in the application process, Serri and another candidate each spent a week on campus, interacting with students, faculty and staff. The other candidate later withdrew his application for the position, but that did not guarantee Serri the position.
“We could have opened up the search again” if the remaining candidate were not suitable, Garver said.
Garver organized forums for students to meet each candidate. At the forum for Serri, only a few students stopped by, and only one stayed the whole time.
“She still had a very positive attitude,” Garver said.
“I’m so excited that I am moving and into such a wonderful academic community,” said Serri, who currently lives in the Bay Area. “I’m impressed by the quality of Pomona’s academic environment, and by the consortium as a whole. I have an affinity for academic communities.”
Serri also pointed to personal reasons for accepting the position and the move to Southern California.
“I have several reasons—47 of them, in fact,” she said.
Serri will begin work May 7, and she plans to visit in the coming weeks.