C. Gabriel Rhoads on the mysteries of the ombudsperson's office
academic year, a newly appointed student hangs up his or her shingle
outside the Office of the Ombudsperson in the Reynolds Club basement.
An independent official who seeks fair, respectful treatment for
all members of the University community-staff, faculty, and students
alike-this year's ombudsperson is C. Gabriel Rhoads, a fourth-year
in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Sciences and
Medicine program. Rhoads reflects on his role in interpreting
drew you to the Office of the Ombudsperson?
was drawn to the Office of the Ombudsperson because I am at once
interested in the structure of large nonprofit organizations and
also interested in being of some assistance to the University
community. I was also attracted to a position in which I would
be able to have a real impact on peoples' lives on a local level.
I have the opportunity to address specific problems at their sources
and try to affect a positive change.
I see a recurring problem, the office has the discretion to suggest
a policy shift in order to address a concern on a University-wide
level. I like to think that, in this way, the office exists not
as an advocate for members of the University community, but rather
as an advocate for solutions, reinstituting the lines of communication
between parties and unraveling the complexities of a large administrative
do you go about addressing complaints?
a complaint about what seems like a cold, detached administrative
action is simply a result of a misunderstanding of the contingency
of the responding party.
student may come into my office with the feeling that a professor
made an unfair judgment or decision. In one case, a student felt
that his participation grade had suffered unfairly, negatively
affecting his performance in the class. I sat the professor and
the student down together in a conversation about the nature of
the expectations of participation. The professor and the student
had different but equally valuable understandings of the content
of participation in the University setting. Upon discovering how
the other made decisions, the student and the professor came to
a compromise that valued both perspectives.
cases center around curiosity about the functioning of administrative
structures. It is the responsibility of the ombudsperson to know
the University well enough to get answers. The office can be used
simply to voice complaints and talk about options, something which
all students may not be aware of. The office is a resource to
talk about how to get things done as easily as possible.
What has been the most surprising
surprise was the amount of complaints that come in regarding off-campus
living arrangements. As a University entity, my office does not
have any control over non-University operations other than to
reaffirm the administration's interest in its students having
an environment as supportive as possible of campus life. Over
15 percent of cases so far this year have dealt with housing issues,
both University and non-University. Off-campus issues are often
more compelling. I discuss the situation with my clients and refer
them to several organizations around the neighborhood and city.
Since living arrangements are such a large part of campus life,
it is not surprising that concerns arise; however, I initially
was not expecting it to be so.