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Interview

image: Campus NewsFourth-year C. Gabriel Rhoads on the mysteries of the ombudsperson's office
Each 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 University policy.

What drew you to the Office of the Ombudsperson?
I 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.

If 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 entity.

How do you go about addressing complaints?

Often 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.

A 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.

Other 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 complaint?

One 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.

 


  FEBRUARY 2001

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