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Ombudsperson gives guidance to students

Q: What is the role of an ombudsperson? How many are there?
The role of the ombudsperson is to listen and provide guidance to students.  We facilitate a voluntary process to open communication between students and members of the University community in order to resolve concerns and issues.  We listen to student concerns, investigate the facts surrounding the matter and make objective recommendations to achieve an effective resolution.  It is important to understand that the ombudsperson does not dictate or override existing policies.There are two administrators who serve in the ombudsperson role.  I have served as the University Ombudsperson since June 2008, and I oversee the Ombudsperson and University Troubleshooters Program. I address student concerns regarding administrative offices and services.  Mr. V. Chunoo serves as the Academic Ombudsperson. He focuses on academic concerns with the schools and colleges.

Q: How does the Ombudsperson and University Troubleshooters Program work?
Our motto is “Stop! Come see us first – Student Talking Out Possibilities”Students should see us when they are looking for guidance on how to address a concern such as grade appeals, class withdrawal, financial assistance, or a housing concern.The program was established to open channels of communication between students and the university by providing an identifiable person to listen to student concerns. The objective of the program is to connect students to faculty and administrators who will listen, answer questions, interpret policies/procedures and provide guidance on the appropriate steps to consider for a resolution.We do not want students to feel as though they are being shuffled around and not receiving answers to their concerns.
Q: Do different departments on campus get their own troubleshooters? How many troubleshooters are there on campus?
A University Troubleshooter is designated by his/her department, college or school to fulfill that role. For 2010-2011, there are 19 academic troubleshooters and 21 administrative troubleshooters.  The listing may be found at www.miami.edu/ombudsperson or by calling 305-284-4922.
Q: What different channels are available for students who wish to contact an ombudsperson or troubleshooter? How does a student get in contact with you?
I recommend that a student start by contacting the appropriate University Troubleshooter, first.  In most cases, a concern can be resolved at the departmental level. A student may find the contact list on the website www.miami.edu/ombudsperson, which includes email addresses and phone numbers.  You may also contact 305-284-4922 to request that information.Once the appropriate troubleshooter has been contacted, you may reach out to an ombudsperson, if needed.  You may contact us at ombudsperson@miami.edu or call 305-284-4922. We request that students fill out the on-line case submission form prior to meeting with an ombudsperson at www.miami.edu/ombudsperson.
Q: What advice would you give to a student placed in a difficult or uncertain situation?
Do not be fearful, ashamed or too proud to seek help. We are here to provide support so that you will be successful at the University of Miami.Students often do not access an ombudsperson or university troubleshooter until their situation is at “crisis” level. Crisis level means that it has to be resolved in less than 24 hours and that is often challenging, especially when other departments must be included. This is why we encourage students to start early.
Q: What do you like best about helping students?
When I was a student at my undergraduate university, I initially had a difficult time transitioning. There were several student affairs administrators who really reached out and helped me identify ways to be successful and continued to provide that support throughout my four years.  That same commitment and concern that they had for me is what I strive to provide to collegiate students.  I want to see students succeed in all aspects of their life while at UM. I take my time to get know students with whom I am working in one-on-one interactions.

INFOBOX

Dr. Cole-Avent’s list of things to consider when addressing a conflict or concern:

  1. When in doubt, seek us out. Our motto is probably one of the most effective ways to find a resolution. S.T.O.P and Come See Us First. If you think you have a question or anticipate something may need to be addressed, see us first. The University Troubleshooters and Ombudsperson representatives want to help students talk out possibilities for resolving their concerns.
  2. Start early. Many students wait until that last moment, which can be a challenge if a quick response is needed. Start seeking out the appropriate people early. Even if you have a preliminary question, the troubleshooters and appropriate ombudsperson can point you in the right direction.
  3. Learn about the Policies and Procedures. If applicable, ask about the policy and procedure that addresses your concern.  It will describe the parameters and if there are any exceptions. Fully read and understand any contract that you sign. A contract at UM is the same as a contract with any other institution or business.  You must fulfill your commitment.
  4. Document your interactions. Keep a record of who you spoke to, when you spoke to him/her, and the outcome.  This is good practice for life. When speaking to students, we hear the general statement “they told me.” It is challenging to address the specifics of a scenario with the elusive “they.”
  5. Be Respectful. Yelling, screaming or cursing a fellow student or administrator is not the most effective way to resolve a situation. Some situations will lead to frustration, but try to keep a cool demeanor. Individuals are more willing to listen and respond when they are engaged in a conversation where respect is exhibited.

Alexandra Leon may be contacted at aleon@themiamihurricane.com.

July 22, 2010

Reporters

Alexandra Leon

Senior News Writer


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