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Student options expand with ombuds office closing

July 17, 2006

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University trustees approved the previously announced closure of WMU's Office of Ombuds after hearing a plan to redirect and expand the opportunities for students to raise concerns and have them addressed.

The ombuds office, which was recommended for closure in 2004 by the Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Committee, was charged with resolving issues brought by students, faculty and staff. The office recently saw its two full-time personnel retire, and University officials recommended the positions not be continued and issues redirected to existing and new services. A transition plan went into effect June 30, and WMU Provost Janet Pisaneschi outlined for the board the new options that will be in place by fall to handle student issues, some of which previously were brought to the ombuds.

"Many of the functions of the ombuds were duplicated in offices around the campus, and our focus now is on redirecting student issues in a way we believe will give students more access points for finding help with their problems, keep the resolution closer to the source of the problem, provide neutral and objective assistance, and ensure students get answers and assistance in a more timely fashion," Pisaneschi told the board.

Faculty, staff and graduate students will continue to have access to HelpNet, an employee assistance service with which the University has contracted for several years. In addition, the Graduate College has identified a staff member to resolve issues specific to graduate students. All students who wonder where to go when they pose an issue will have a new online site on the University portal that will direct them to the office or staff member best equipped to address their concern. Currently, any student who tries to visit the ombuds office online is being redirected to a transition site that provides information.

Student issues cover a variety of topics. Among the issues and the network of offices available to handle these issues are:

Requests for late withdrawals from classes--Office of the Registrar

Grade appeals and program dismissal appeals--Office of Associate Vice Provost and Director of Academic Collective Bargaining

Non-academic concerns--Office of Associate Dean of Students

Discrimination or harassment--Office of Institutional Equity

Concerns involving employment or academic programs are to be referred to the supervisor of the office or department responsible for the issue; and students needing assistance in determining where to obtain assistance may contact the director of advising for their academic college, Graduate College or Office of the Associate Dean of Students.

A comprehensive plan to inform the University community of the new options is now under development, with students providing input on the best methods for communicating the changes to their fellow students. The plan and the new portal resource will be implemented before the start of the fall 2006 semester.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
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