How ISU's ombuds officer can and can't help

Wonder if you're striking the right tone in a sensitive email? Need a go-between to help facilitate a tough conversation? Distraught at work and trying to figure out your options?

Those are the types of issues Iowa State ombuds officer Deanna Clingan-Fischer helps employees address, she told the Professional and Scientific Council at its March 1 meeting.

As the university's ombuds officer, Clingan-Fischer is a confidential, impartial and informal resource for faculty, staff, post-docs and graduate/professional students facing challenges at work or school. The position was created in 2008 but newly expanded to full time last summer, after it was opened to merit staff. Clingan-Fischer stepped into the position in August 2017.

"People can come to me with their concerns, with their issues, with their problems, and we can talk through them," she said.

Clingan-Fischer likens herself to a sounding board. She listens, provides feedback, helps identify issues, points to policies and makes referrals, but she won't tell people what to do or serve as an advocate or investigator. Her role is to provide nonjudgmental, neutral information -- including some services, such as communication coaching and assistance with discussions.

In FY17, the ombuds office saw 94 people -- including 38 P&S staff and 27 faculty members. The record caseload for the office was in FY15, when it met with 153 people. Through February, Clingan-Fischer said she had met with 48 P&S employees in FY18. She's working on ways to better reflect ombuds activity in future annual reports, she told council members, noting she has met 18 times with one individual.

The top issues Clingan-Fischer hears about are lack of respect and communication breakdowns. Conflicts with supervisors typically have been the most-cited concern, according to the office's annual reports.

Though information shared with Clingan-Fischer is private, she does have a duty to report situations where an individual is unsafe. She also shares trends with university administration if they appear to indicate systemic issues.

"If I have five people coming to me saying the same thing, I know," she said.

Officer elections

The council also elected its executive officers for 2018-19. Members will begin serving in these roles July 1, when president-elect Stacy Renfro takes the reins from current president Jessica Bell:

  • President-elect, Amy Ward, program coordinator at Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
  • Vice president for university planning and budget, Barry McCroskey, accountant for ISU Extension and Outreach
  • Vice president for university community relations, Kelly Friesleben, associate director of transfer admissions
  • Vice president for equity and inclusion, Carolyn Duven, program coordinator for the Academic Success Center
  • Secretary/treasurer, Joy Stroud, administrative specialist at Reiman Gardens

Council member elections will be held March 19-30, with voting online via AccessPlus. P&S employees will receive an email reminder about the election.