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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Monday afternoon in the Fleming Administration Building to discuss the faculty open letter on carbon neutrality, voting unanimously to support it. University Faculty Ombuds Michele Hannoosh and Robert Ortega, a former SACUA member, joined the second half of open session to explain their work in helping faculty members with conflict resolution. Discussion regarding faculty ombuds then moved into executive session.

SACUA chair Neil Marsh, professor of chemistry, moved to write a resolution in support of the faculty open letter on climate action. Marsh said an endorsement from SACUA might encourage other faculty to sign the letter.

“This seems like something that is of general interest to the faculty, so I think it is appropriate for SACUA and the Senate Assembly to consider this,” Marsh said. “And I think support from us will maybe encourage other people as individuals to sign onto the letter… resulting in more proactive response from the administration on carbon neutrality beyond what they’ve already committed to.”

There was some discussion between committee members on wording of the resolution, in particular whether to support the letter in general or to specifically support its intent of asking University President Mark Schlissel to take greater action on University climate change initiatives. SACUA member Bill Schultz, professor of mechanical engineering, voiced his opinion that supporting the intent of the letter would weaken SACUA’s resolution of support. The final version of the resolution is worded to support the efforts of the faculty letter authors.

“SACUA supports the efforts of the faculty who wrote the letter on climate change action and urges other faculty to support the letter as well,” the final resolution reads.

SACUA then hosted Faculty Ombuds Hannoosh and Ortega of the Office of University Faculty Ombuds. Ortega explained he and Hannoosh assist in resolving academic and administrative disputes for faculty members as an alternative to formal grievance or judicial proceedings. According to Ortega, the office operates by four principles: neutrality and impartiality, confidentiality, independence, and informality.

Hannoosh expressed the office serves as a resource for faculty members, particularly those who have issues with administration and may not know how to find help.

“The University has an army of lawyers and administrators and advisers, people that they can turn to,” Hannoosh said. “Most faculty members don’t have any idea of where to go if they have a problem. So we consider our role to be helping them figure out what the resources are.”

Hannoosh explained ombuds ask faculty who come into their office to discuss what the issue is and how they would like the issue to be resolved. According to Hannoosh, the ombuds office also works to set up and mediate meetings with opposing parties, discerns whether policies have been violated and refers the faculty member to other offices that may be helpful.

In addition to Hannoosh and Ortega, the office also has unit ombuds from each school who are familiar with the school’s policies, culture and climate. According to Hannoosh, each school selects unit ombuds through their own processes, which vary from being elected to being appointed by the dean. Seeking help from unit ombuds is not required in the conflict resolution process, Hannoosh said.

Schultz asked the ombuds what training they had received. Ortega said he attended a three-day workshop hosted by the International Ombudsman Association and had 30 years of social work practice. Hannoosh said she had previous experience as the LSA ombud, took an online course and attended a training session for unit ombuds hosted by the University provost.

Schultz voiced the importance of the ombudsman program remaining independent from the University and recommended having training sessions through SACUA instead.

“Always pushing back on your independence and neutrality, you might get some training from SACUA or the Faculty Center’s office because we have a history and probably have a different view than the provost’s office, who’s paying your salary and who chose you as the ombuds,” Schultz said. “The faculty that are coming to you are complaining about other people usually in the administration who have a lot of staff to help them … You two are our only hope in some cases when we’re the underdogs and I hope that you can realize that.”

In response, Hannoosh emphasized the importance of maintaining a relationship with the Office of the Provost for access to certain resources.

“I think we do regard impartiality and neutrality as very important,” Hannoosh said. “But it is that (relationship with the provost’s office) that guarantees us access to certain kinds of information, we can go more into that in executive session if you want. But having that access is really important for getting to a good result usually for the faculty … So I think that’s where it actually benefits the faculty member. We are not an official advocate for (the provost’s office) but we are there as a resource.”

According to Hannoosh, the Office of University Faculty Ombuds plans to release a summary report around late May to discuss recurring issues they see and suggest institutional changes.

“Obviously they don’t have to follow what we say, but it would behoove them to listen to us,” Hannoosh said. “Our role in many ways is to try to resolve problems before they become a crisis, for the faculty member obviously but also for the University.”

Hannoosh emphasized the report will not reveal any identifiable or confidential information. Ortega said he and Hannoosh are planning to provide feedback to the Office of the Provost using findings in their report.

The SACUA meeting then moved into executive session.

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