Starting in the spring, the university will be adding a University Ombudsman's Office to provide a "neutral, impartial and confidential environment to discuss individual concerns of faculty, staff and students," Provost Lori Gonzalez said in a written announcement.
The academic ombudsman will operate neutrally to resolve issues confidentially which may arise among the university's community, according to the International Ombudsman Association.
The ombudsman may report to the Provost on trends or patterns, which may require policy change, though Gonzalez said that the office's format has not yet been finalized.
Jim Barnes has been appointed as the Interim University Ombudsman, according to the announcement from the provost. Barnes was an interim ombudsman at Ohio University in the early 1970s, and worked at Appalachian as a government and justice studies professor since 1996.
Barnes said he will be the interim ombudsman while the office is created and established, but plans to retire after two years.
"I think because I have some experience with this that I can do something beneficial," Barnes said. "I'm going to retire... so it's my swan song."
Barnes said he plans to speak with faculty, administration, housing staff and student groups, such as the Student Government Association to introduce the office to the campus community.
"The idea was that spring semester would be dedicated to creating the office, that is, literally from scratch," Barnes said. "There is no place for it to be. We've not talked about budget. We've just talked about the idea of it."
Barnes said that due to the confidential nature of the work done within the ombudsman's office, it is difficult to assess if the office is working or not.
"If it works well, nobody will ever know," Barnes said.
Barnes said that his main concern as ombudsman is students, but that he doesn't know whether more issues will arise with faculty and administration.
Barnes also said that he would be open to dealing with parents, as well.
"If you have an issue, you don't know what to do, I'm the person that you come to," Barnes said. "There is no record kept except for in the office, and I cannot be called to testify. This is an office where you can come anonymously, and say, 'I've got a problem. I don't know how to deal with this. Somebody did this, and I don't think that's right.' Hopefully you can arrive at some kind of reconciliation where the parties understand the logic that's involved and why things are done in a certain way."
Gonzalez said that the need for the addition of the office came to light last year.
"I would say the events on campus last year reinforced the need for such a position," Gonzalez said.
Barnes said that the office would likely open officially in late spring.
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