UW Today

May 5, 2014

Hundreds seek confidential, objective advice from UW Ombud

News and Information

Chuck Sloane, the UW ombud, gives a talk on campus.

Chuck Sloane, the UW ombud, gives a talk on campus.Matthew Toles, The Daily

Last year 420 faculty, staff and students from the University of Washington turned to the Office of the Ombud for issues pertaining to career transitions, conflicts with colleagues, grades, student housing and more.

The three-person staff conducted 1,538 confidential in-person or phone meetings and traveled 1,848 miles to serve people on all the UW campuses as well as Harborview Medical Center.

These facts and figures are included in an annual report released by the UW Office of the Ombud detailing the scope of their work during 2013. The report, the first to be made public in decades, is available online (or view it as a Prezi presentation) and intended to provide an overview of who the office works with and approaches to solving problems.

“Many people think that the issues they have don’t rise to the level of the Ombud’s Office,” said Chuck Sloane, the UW ombud. “But people should come in and check because the earlier we’re involved the more options they have available.”

From faculty and staff nervous about retiring to researcher conflicts to student concerns over grades, and even regret over sending an emotionally-charged email – these are all problems the office helps with.

Sloane became the university ombud last summer. He graduated from UW in 2000 with a bachelor’s in psychology and English. Then he earned a master’s in clinical psychology with an emphasis on marital counseling and post-traumatic stress disorder – both of which “come in handy” as the ombud, he said.

“As stressors increase, people don’t clearly see their goals and options or how to move forward and be their best professional selves,” Sloane said. “We serve the UW community by helping people be successful.”

Sloane hopes to expand the office’s capacity. He and his team are giving presentations for various UW departments to give the community a better sense of how the ombud’s services work.

“People come to us when something has popped up and they need help navigating a critical juncture in their career,” he said. “They’ve often exhausted their personal network, colleagues and other resources, and we provide an informed yet external perspective.”

In 2013, according to the annual report, 141 staff members, 134 students and 87 faculty sought services. The rest – 58 of the 420 total served – were “a hodgepodge of alumni, parents and anyone else with a relationship with the university,” Sloane said.

Frequent problems include:

  • Faculty and staff concerned about their retirement. “We have an aging workforce, and we get a lot of questions about transitions,” Sloane said. “People have a passion for the university. They see it as their life’s work. They want to continue being involved after retirement. They also want to talk about their legacy, succession of their roles in their department, and finances during retirement.”
  • Conflicts within research labs around campus. “People are there all the time, and maintaining professional boundaries can be a challenge,” Sloane said.
  • Faculty dynamics – pressures and competitiveness among talented professionals.
  • Students frequently talk with the ombud about anxiety over their futures. “The level of anxiety has jumped and jumped over the past decade as students face more uncertainty,” Sloane said.

Former UW President Charles E. Odegaard created UW’s Ombudsman’s Office in 1968 as a way to address student groups concerned with university leadership. “Ombudsman” is a Scandinavian term for an appointed advocate for the public. To comply with gender-neutral state law, the office removed “man” from their title in 2013, and after briefly considering “Ombuds” ultimately dropped the “s” as well, on the advice of the UW Scandinavian department, to be more true to the language.

“At this point, we’re just trying to hold onto those remaining five letters,” Sloane joked.

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For more information, contact Sloane at 206-543-6028 or csloane@uw.edu.

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