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The Ombuds Office: Fostering Resilience and Influencing Campus Change

American institutions of higher education first began offering ombuds services in the late 1960s when in loco parentis began to fade as an administrative construct and students became more vocal about perceived injustices on campus and in society. Today, the campus ombudsman (ombuds, ombudsperson) helps students (and in many cases, faculty and staff members) informally resolve issues or concerns that they have about the institution and then reports trends in issues and concerns to decision makers within the institution. Through this process, students gain skills in communication, self-advocacy, and creative problem solving and can often navigate a more local and informal solution while avoiding more onerous, formal grievance processes. The ombuds can help students take responsibility for their roles in the issues and help them understand how appropriate ownership of a problem may actually move them closer to resolution. This presentation will explore the role of an ombudsperson on a college campus and his or her effect on students’ ability to resolve issues that they encounter. Participants will also learn strategies for effectively advocating for institutional change and for equipping students to do so, as well.

Extension of session experience

The ombuds office operates under the principles of confidentiality, impartiality, and independence, which differentiates it from other campus resources. Participants who work in institutions that have an ombuds office will be better aware of that role be able to make appropriate referrals. Participants who work at institutions that do not employ an ombudsman may wish to consider the implications of such a role on their campuses. Alternatively, participants might consider how they can employ some of the strategies discussed within the framework of their current positions on campus.

Important question explored

  • a key question that might be considered during your session. How can we help foster resilience in students who face challenges on our campus?

Presenters

Jennifer Smith Schneider currently serves as the student ombudsperson for the University of South Florida in Tampa. She has also worked at Polk State College and the University of Central Florida. Before beginning her career in higher education, Jennifer taught deaf students in a K-12 public school setting and developed American Sign Language curriculum for a large public school district and for a small private university. Jennifer attended Flagler College as an undergraduate and earned master and doctoral degrees from the University of South Florida. Thomas E. Miller serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of South Florida, appointed to this position following a national search in 2013, and an Associate Professor where he has served since 2001.  He previously worked in senior student affairs positions at the University of South Florida, Eckerd College, and Canisius College; and he also held positions at Indiana University, and at Shippensburg University.  Dr. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College and master and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.