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Ombudsman. Do you know what it means? Perhaps the fact that WSU Vancouver lacks a dedicated ombudsman is the reason why most students on campus could not answer this question

Let’s face it: There are times when students encounter issues with university administration, staff or faculty for which they are either unprepared or ill equipped to handle on their own. At most universities, including WSU, students may enlist the assistance of the university ombudsman. This individual acts as an unbiased and confidential liaison, mediating resolutions to problems between the university president, faculty, staff and students.

According to Randy Boose, human resources director for WSU Vancouver, it is the anonymity offered to students when they contact the ombudsman that is attractive.

“When staff or students do call [the ombudsman], we are not notified,” Boose said. “That’s the beauty of the ombudsman and why people feel comfortable going to them. The ombudsman comes out of a tradition of giving advice to the king and it’s a way for somebody to have many different options to get their problems resolved.”

Washington State University has two ombudsmen, both stationed at the Pullman campus. WSU urban campuses lack an on-site ombudsman, but the individuals who fill this role in Pullman are available to students, staff and faculty at all campuses.

Boose coordinates ombudsman visits to WSU urban campuses each semester. Between visits, the ombudsmen rely on telephone and email communication to resolve issues, Boose said.

“We have access to the services in Pullman, and a lot of the work they do makes sense to do over the phone anyway. If Pullman has two [ombudsmen] for all of the state, it wouldn’t even make sense for us to have one,” Boose said.

According to Boose, there is neither the demand nor the funding to justify ombudsman positions on WSU’s urban campuses. The university weighs the cost of adding an ombudsman against the value of having additional staff or faculty.

Boose said there are other avenues students at WSU Vancouver can pursue to have their questions answered and issues resolved. For employees, he suggested the employee assistance program, and for students, campus counseling services. These services, are also completely confidential.

ASWSUV President Daniel Nguyen, a senior majoring in biology and psychology, and Aaron Bruckner, ASWSUV vice president and a senior majoring in computer science, said students need to know that the services of the university ombudsman, and other similar services, are available to them.

“The ombudsman is the only place where [students] can bring all of their issues and receive help resolving them,” Nguyen said. “I do believe that we need that type of service and it should be communicated to the student body.”

Bruckner favors the idea of  an online list of all options available to help students address their issues with teachers, university policies or other concerns.

“Issues always arise. However, students might not always know who to turn to for help,” Bruckner said. “There may be issues pertaining to a certain department, [or] issues that have no clear department. Students need to know where to take those issues.”

For now, Bruckner recommends students start with the Office of Student Affairs.

What happens if a student brings up a controversial issue? Who will be willing to represent him or her?

“Aaron and I eventually saw that there is not a well-communicated place or person ready to receive and handle student concerns [on this campus]. While student government isn’t here to replicate the university [ombudsman] in any way, we can certainly fill that student advocacy role by providing a similar service [through] student government,” Nguyen said.

Both Nguyen and Bruckner said they have an open-door policy and invite students to visit them personally.

Nguyen also said the ASWSUV executive team is considering the possibility of setting up a special department, committee or individual within student government to receive and process student concerns.

Nguyen and Bruckner have entertained the idea of creating an “officer of advocacy” position to fulfill these duties, but decided to focus on developing the ASWSUV Senate and helping student government become better informed about campus issues instead. They are now considering other models they think might work, but realize a student advocate and the official university ombudsman would hold different powers. For example, a student advocate or advocacy group mght differ from the ombudsman’s role because it could lack guarateed confidentiality and lack of bias.

“At the end of the day, we are still students,” Bruckner said.

“The ASWSUV Senate has done a great job of becoming more of that representative group,” Bruckner said. “We are trying our best to have an open student government that is always willing to stop what they are doing to talk with students. We would love it if students would take advantage of that opportunity. We have a multi-faceted community here on campus so we have to find that multi-faceted strategy to aid in
communication.”

Bruckner invites students to attend the public comment time at any student government Senate meeting, 9:30 a.m. every Friday in Firstenburg Student Commons Room 104.

Students who wish to seek assistance or advice from the university ombudsman should contact Cathryn L. Claussen or Tena Old via the ombudsman website: ombudsman.wsu.edu. Claussen, Old and their assistant, Janet Herrlinger, have held their positions at WSU since 2011.

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