On the bottom floor of Wilson-Short Hall, students struggling to find the help they need with grade disputes, regulations and more, can find it in the Office of the University Ombudsman.
Many students, faculty members and other staff are unaware that the ombudsman’s office exists. According to their website, they cannot solve problems but can make sure people know their rights and what the procedures are when dealing with complaints.
Ombudsman Cathryn Claussen, who is also a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology, said people in need of help should go through normal procedures first. She said students should look at the student handbook and links online. Faculty should go through normal employee complaint processes because there is a wealth of information available.
“When that process breaks down, then we are here to try and investigate,” Claussen said. “We aren’t a last resort, but we are here to listen if the normal process isn’t solving your problem.”
Ombudsmen can be a resource in multiple instances, including referring people to the appropriate place to get help, mediating disputes, acting as a silent, objective third party and checking rules and regulations, Claussen said. The ombudsmen should not however, be mistaken for personal advocates because they are only advocating for fair procedure.
“We are distinct from a lawyer or representative role,” Claussen said. “We are neutral parties trying to figure out the fair way to get things resolved.”
The ombudsmen have helped students with disputed grades, financial aid miscommunication and harassment, Claussen said. Issues of employee discrimination, harassment and any kind of mistreatment are some of the possible situations involving faculty and staff.
“There are no fees to go to the ombudsman’s office,” Claussen said. “It’s easier if people schedule an appointment, but we also encourage people to just come in if they are having trouble.”
A senior mechanical engineering major Nick Somers, who received help from the ombudsman’s office regarding a grade dispute, said it is a resource that should be utilized by students and staff when necessary. He said the ombudsmen helped him explore avenues he was unaware of.
“I didn't receive what I thought was adequate explanation from [the department] about a grade, so I contacted the ombudsman to help with advice as to what I could do,” Somers said. “It is my understanding that the ombudsman protects the rights of the students and faculty of the university, and as I didn't think the class was graded properly (violating policies), I contacted them.”
Claussen said the ombudsmen are technically under the authority of the provost’s office but are mostly independent. They have to be able to function that way if problems involve offices of authority, she said.
“Many might be afraid of retaliation if they’re complaining about a supervisor or professor,” Claussen said. “We keep everything confidential unless given permission by the person to do otherwise.”
The two current ombudsmen are new, but Claussen said the direction of the office is still clear and unchanging. She said the only difference is they have been asked to report patterns in regulation problems so the policies can be rewritten to ease the issues.
Ombudsman Tena Old, who previously worked with WSU Events and Outreach, said Claussen was in line to be the Faculty Senate Chair, but she has instead taken the neutral ombudsman position. She said this position will be challenging for Claussen, and it will allow her to make contributions that are just as important as those in a faculty advocate position.
“Her role hasn’t diminished, but it has changed,” Old said.
Claussen said although people may not like the outcome of the situation they are have trouble with, but they will at least make sure people are treated fairly.