July 07, 2011

An Ombuds for UT Staff

I’m delighted to announce the appointment of UT’s first staff ombudsperson. The Staff Ombuds Search Committee conducted a national search this spring, and on their recommendation I have appointed Jennifer Graf Sims as staff ombuds effective July 20. An ombuds is a neutral third-party who assists in problem solving and conflict resolution.

New Staff Ombuds Officer Jenn Sims

New Staff Ombuds Officer Jenn Sims

Jennifer’s prior experience as an ombuds in higher education makes her an ideal choice for our staff ombuds position. She comes to us from Bridgepoint Education, where she was associate ombuds. Jennifer also served as an ombuds officer at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa. I am very happy to welcome her to the 40 Acres. You can read more about Jennifer’s experience and education, as well as more description of the role of her office here.

As many of you know, the creation of this position has been several years in the making. I’d like to take a moment to thank the search committee for its work: Chair Charles Roeckle, deputy to the president; Jennifer Smith, student affairs administrator in the College of Natural Sciences; Del Watson, director of human resources planning in the McCombs School; Mary Steinhardt, faculty ombudsperson; and Lauren Bloom, student ombudsperson.

I’d also like to thank the UT Staff Council leaders and the Staff Council ad hoc committee that conducted an extensive study of the staff grievance process as well as the role of a staff ombudsperson. Without their hard work and perseverance, establishing this position might not have been possible.

The staff ombuds will report directly to my office. Formal staff grievances will continue to be handled by the Human Resource Services Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Office.

I believe it has been helpful to have an ombudsperson serving faculty and students, and adding a staff ombuds will make the University a better place for staff to work.

Bill's Signature






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4 Responses to “An Ombuds for UT Staff”

  1. Argus says:

    Welcome to the new Staff Ombuds Officer Jennifer Graf Sims!

    I hope you enjoy a challenge. I hope that your intent is to try to make things more fair at UT.

    May I share an anecdote?

    In 2002 a new UT Vice President (neither an Assistant nor an Associate nor a Deputy nor any other iteration of that office, but a full VP) at UT gathered his entire division and delivered a speech; within the first thirty seconds of his introduction he promised to create an anonymous electronic suggestion box that anyone could use without fear of retaliation.

    Guess what? It never happened. That VP still works at UT—still as a VP—and I’d guess that someone pulled him aside to advise him that anonymous suggestion boxes don’t fit the UT paradigm. People aren’t stupid: Many of us remember exactly what he said. He lost a great deal of credibility right off the bat. Based on a great many other unfulfilled promises he has made in the interim, I don’t think that bothered him a bit.

    If you’d like to see beyond the impressive campus, the pharaonic football program, the opulent offices, the rarifed air of luxury boxes, ever-plentiful parking for the holders of “O” stickers and free trips on the University’s turboprops—that is, if you’d like to begin to get a grass-roots view of people at UT who actually work for a living—I’d like to suggest some reading for you.

    I would start with this Tower Talk archive, all the way back to its inception, paying particular attention to the comments and questions from the greater UT community.

    Although sometimes pointed, the vast majority of those comments and questions have been detailed, well-reasoned and fair. They may provide you something of an eye-opener.

    Tellingly—although I am quite impressed that negative comments are not entirely suppressed, and sometimes we do get a response—to date very few of the questions posed have been answered.

    In the interest of getting the whole picture, I will suggest some additional sources for you to peruse in days to come.

    The very best of luck in your new mission!

  2. LONGTIME LONGHORN says:

    I welcome Jennifer Sims, after many years of asking and needing an Ombudsman like the UT faculty and students have had for many years. We have accomplished a small victory. I hope with her role in this key position, she will be able to help staff & magmt work more cohesively and honor the UT Honor Code at UT, implement by former President Flawn.

    Yes, I do believe that mgmt sometime forget that they are employees of this university as well, and let their personal judgement interfears in not the most postive way. I look at things expecting the best and excellence in leadership. MGMGT seriously needs yearly training on communicating, civility, relating to its staff. Stop sweeping issues under rugg, when someone move the rugg the dirt will stil be there, thing will resurface.

    In my opinion all mangers have a responsibility to magmt and their employees. But because the university has allows dept heads/ manger to set their own dept policies, which causes contention and distention between staff.

    A departmental policy should be in line with UT policy.
    Mangers are making them up as the go along and have the NOA staff assisting the in writing them up. Employee arent very trusting of EAP, Dispute Resolution, and EOS.Even when they know things are wrong, its like they are telling them just go along and get along and dont think about it. Its called the sand bag effect.

    I hope UT Employee Council will work with Jennifer Sims to get mangers polices to stay in line with the university polices.

    For example in a dept a group of employees have direct contact with the students, and they have a stricter dress code, than another group of employees who more so have more direct contact and interaction with the students, but their dess code is more relaxed or almost none exsistance or barley enforced. What does this do for the staff morale.
    Some frontline employees can get to take classes during work hours, some eployees told to do it with their own money on their own time, dont even submitt a request. But the real problem was mgmt was letting to many employees go at one time and complianed to her boss who then set this unfair dept police in play. There are many real and unfair and unethical practices going on at UT, and mangers are covering it up, and putting the blame elsewhere. Right now the support staff employees morale is at an at time low not just because of the budget issues, but how mgmt is simply not inclusive of its workers, and demanding more,but they are not setting positive examples as leaders should. Its like they have selective hearing, memory, and none constructive way they respond back to you. They have staff afraid to be envolved or come forward to what they actually saw and heard, afraid of retaliation. This is a sad state of affairs for this day and time and how many have struggle for fredom and rights and justice for all.

    If a climate audit was done for the entire university support staff I would ventue to say that might give a clearer picture to mgmt to see they have fallen short in giving the best support and leadership to their employees.

    There are a lot of great mangers at UT who do care and go the extra and who employees havea great deal of confidence in. I just wish the other mangers would find way back to being and giving their best and be move inclusive of their staff needs.

    Encouragement goes a long way when it real!!!

  3. AK says:

    Madame,
    Welcome! I wish you best of luck on this much needed new staff assignment. I am hoping that Mr. Powers will lend you a sympathetic ear in relaying staff concerns. Please note that one sign of doing your job right will be reflected by a line of staff members with concerns outside your office each day. I have seen the university go from bad to worse over the past 25 years. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was laid-off recently for problems rooted in staff issues, but disguised as employee reduction in work force. Whom could I complain to? The administration, all the way to the top (don’t want to name folks), joined in support of each other against me a UT alumnus & 21 year veteran. I was so hurt because these were the people I looked up to for doing the right thing. I have felt stupid and naive; looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I sincerely hope you will be able to help others.

    • Argus says:

      AK,

      Your story is by no means unique. It is just one symptom of a systematic top-down problem at UT: that there is no oversight of mid- to upper-level management at the University, and that the sole purpose of UT’s Human Resources department is to do management’s bidding regardless of whether that bidding is fair or ethical. Nothing prevents a vindictive administrator from conducting a vendetta against an employee for solely petty reasons; employees who get railroaded out on pretexts that their co-workers are savvy enough to leave unchallenged have no recourse.

      Will the Staff Ombuds help change this? Perhaps. I hope so. I hope that the sole criterion governing redress of unfairness does not remain whether an administrator’s conduct might make the University legally liable, but whether the administrator has done right.

      Meanwhile, the sham of a “Dispute Resolution” process in which nothing prevents the “Dispute Resolution Officer” from calling an employee’s boss before the employee even leaves the North Office Building after lodging a complaint against that boss will lumber forward.

      A former Associate Vice-President for HR was fond of trumpeting that complaints to that office had decreased because it worked so well. In truth, employees learned very fast what would happen to them if they went there, the word spread, and people stayed away out of self-preservation.