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Ombudsman's office reopens

Jan. 7, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University will have an experienced ombudsman to serve student, faculty and staff needs through December 2007, WMU Interim President Diether H. Haenicke announced Friday.

Dr. Thomas Bailey, University ombudsman from 1994 to 1999, will reopen the recently shuttered office immediately and will serve in the ombudsman position on a half-time basis for the year. The office has been closed since June, when the last ombudsman retired and University officials opted not to appoint a replacement.

"Students have told me, repeatedly, how important they think it is to have an impartial office available to help them resolve the issues they sometimes face," says Haenicke. "I decided to revive the position on a half-time basis for a one-year term and put an experienced person in the role. This will ensure assistance is available for our students and employees, and it will give the next president time to assess the need for the position and make a final determination about how it should be staffed and funded."

Bailey will reopen the office, which is located in Room 218 of the Bernhard Center, and will have office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2 to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon. Appointments can be made by contacting ombudsman@wmich.edu or (269) 387-0718. The office also will be served by a part-time receptionist, who also will make appointments for individuals who seek assistance.

Bailey, a professor of English and environmental studies, has been at WMU since 1970. During his previous stint as ombudsman, he was active with the discipline's national professional organization, serving as president of the University and College Ombudsman Association in 1999 and a member of the organization's board for two years prior to that.

"In many ways, this is a professorial position," Bailey says. "When I held the position before, I wasn't teaching English literature, but I was teaching students about ways to address the issues

they face in life. A good ombudsman can work with young people in a very positive way to help them learn to resolve the issues that come their way in a creative and positive way and without anger. That's the real service an ombudsman can provide to the University community."

Bailey says he expects to work closely with offices across campus to address issues. He points out that, often, the ombudsman's role is simply to let someone know how to find resources already available on campus to address issues.

"Above all, the ombudsman can provide an objective, neutral listening post for someone who wishes to discuss an issue confidentially," Bailey says. "Sometimes, it's a matter of simply listening. On other occasions, I will be able to suggest a number of ways to resolve the issue. The role of the ombudsman is not to be an advocate, but to suggest ways resolution can be reached."

He notes that when he was last in the position, about 40 percent of those he served were graduate students, faculty or staff. He says he is eager to see if that mix has changed over the years.

With the reopening of its ombudsman's office, WMU reclaims the distinction of having the second oldest such University office in the nation. The office was first established in 1970. A university ombudsman's role is to provide confidential advice and nonpartisan assistance in solving problems and resolving disputes. An ombudsman is independent of the university's formal administrative structure and cannot impose solutions, but can identify options and strategies for resolution. The four guiding principles of an ombudsman are confidentiality, independence, neutrality and informality.

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

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400