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 Tuesday, November 14, 2006 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Got Conflict? The Ombuds Office Can Help
By Linda Besen, Publications and Creative Services

Working in an environment where there is ongoing, unresolved conflict between people can be stressful, exhausting, and unhealthy. The Ombuds and Faculty Ombuds Offices provide confidential and informal assistance to members of the university community who are experiencing conflict or who have concerns about university-related academic or administrative issues. In 2005-06, they provided assistance to approximately 600 staff, faculty, students and parents.

People are encouraged to visit the Ombuds Office at the earliest detection of a problem. In the vast majority of cases, informal conflict coaching is all that is needed. If the situation would benefit from mediation between people, it typically doesn't take a long time. Ombuds Office Director Tom Sebok said, "If it goes on and on, it's not working. We typically meet with each person for about an hour. Then we schedule two two-hour sessions for them to meet with one or two ombudspersons. Usually that's sufficient, and if we don't need the second session we cancel it."

Although the Ombuds Office has always maintained confidentiality, a serious issue is the possibility of being called to testify in a lawsuit. While in cases where this has happened, ombudspersons nationwide have been largely supported by judges in their refusal to testify, currently there are no "shield laws" guaranteeing the right to operate confidentially. However, in August 2006, the Ombuds Office received a letter of support from Chancellor Peterson giving them authorization "to promise and maintain confidentiality."

The Ombuds Office has two new staff members: Associate Director Donna Louden previously was an ombudsperson at the University of California at Irvine. Sebok said, "Donna knows the ombuds role very well already. She has a master's degree in communication with an emphasis on intercultural conflict, which is very helpful to us at CU-Boulder."

Faculty Ombudsperson M. Lee Potts retired from the theatre and dance department in 2001 after 31 years. "Lee taught in the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program, so she's recognized as being highly skilled," said Sebok. "Also, she holds a PhD in communication. I fully expect that our faculty will be very pleased with her ability to unravel whatever's going on."

Among its workshops, the Ombuds Office plans to conduct a spring 2007 workshop about multicultural issues and conflict, which Sebok and Louden will facilitate. "I feel like diversity-related conflicts are so difficult for us, not only as a campus but as a society," said Sebok. "We'll introduce some things that hopefully will help people engage in these conversations more effectively."

For more information, including a self-help section containing practical tools people can use to manage and resolve conflict, visit





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