A Message from the Ombudsman: Reflecting on my first six months

From the Office of the Ombudsperson:

I have learned a lot in my first six months serving as the inaugural ombudsperson for ACC, and there are plenty of things I am still figuring out.

One of the most inspiring things I have seen is that ACC employees are incredibly dedicated to the mission of ACC, wanting to serve their colleagues and students with empathy and enthusiasm. Nearly every visitor I see starts by telling me how much they love their work and/or ACC. With all the passion and love, there are still many people who face challenges and conflict in their daily work.

Most of these first months have been dedicated to getting this office up and running. I've read the administrative rules, examined the organizational charts, and worked on clarifying the policies that will be impacted by the creation of the ombudsperson role.

I attended many departments' fall kickoffs. I met with the Faculty Senate, presented to the Classified Employee Association, attended the Adjunct Faculty Association executive retreat, and met with the Association of Professional-Technical Employees' leadership.

I've made it to seven campuses and am planning to visit the remaining four in the coming weeks. I hope to meet more of you and am always interested in opportunities to connect with the staff and faculty of ACC.

You don't have to have a problem to reach out to me. The more I learn about ACC and your experiences working here, the better I am able to serve the whole community. This office is a safe space, and I hope you will take advantage of the resources available.

In spring 2020, I plan to offer professional development training on topics such as navigating difficult conversations, conflict styles, and empathy. I hope to have time to meet with employees on more campuses.

In April, I will represent ACC at the International Ombuds Association. In this role I will join other ombuds to present a conversation on what it is like to open a new office.

Please feel free to reach out. If you have a concern, are interested in having me meet with your team, or would like to know more about the office, I may be contacted at 512-223-1070.

- Amanda Dean, ACC faculty and staff ombudsperson

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about the work of the ombudsperson:

How can people make an appointment?
Employees may book appointments through Calendly. There are options for different locations as well as phone appointments. You may call the Office of the Ombudsperson at 512-223-1070. Email is discouraged as it creates a record and confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

Who do you serve?
The ombudsperson is available to all faculty and staff of ACC, from hourly employees to part-time classified to full-time faculty. If you work for ACC, the ombudsperson is here for you.

Who do you report to?
The Office of the Ombudsperson reports administratively to the executive vice president of Finance and Administration, Neil Vickers. The ombudsperson is accountable to, and works in service of all members of the ACC community.

Are you really confidential?
The ombudsperson is the one and only confidential resource for faculty and staff. Exceptions to confidentiality are an imminent threat of harm to self or others and abuse and neglect of a minor. As of January 1, 2020, the ombudsperson also is required to report incidents of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, and/or stalking that occurs in the workplace to the Compliance Office.

How is the Office of the Ombudsperson different from HR?
The primary difference between HR and the ombudsperson is confidentiality. While there are exceptions to confidentiality, the priority of the ombudsperson is to be a safe, confidential space to discuss all challenges or concerns an employee is facing. HR has more obligations to report incidents and concerns. HR is an office of notice and record. HR also is the office for formal processes such as grievances or progressive discipline. The ombudsperson office is an informal office and does not participate in these formal processes.

What kind of data do you keep?
The ombudsperson keeps basic demographic information. One of the goals of the office is to track informal reporting on types of conflict and basic trends. At the start of a visit, the ombudsperson will ask how long you have been with ACC and what type of employee you are (faculty/prof-tech/classified). All data kept will be published in annual reports which will be presented to the executive team, the board, and made public. NO identifying information is kept by the ombudsperson.

What does a visit to your office look like?
All visits to the ombudsperson office are voluntary. The ombudsperson is a trained, neutral party who, after asking basic intro questions as listed above and providing the visitor with a confidentiality statement, will invite you to share your story. The visit is a private one-on-one conversation where you're welcome to think and process out loud. The ombudsperson will engage in the conversations in ways that are intended to help gain clarity, perspective, and inform you about possible options. The next steps are up to you.

If you are not an advocate, what do you do?
The ombudsperson for staff and faculty serves as an organizational ombuds and practices to the standards set forth by the International Ombudsman Association. This type of ombudsperson, standard in higher education, serves as a neutral party and not as an advocate. The ombudsperson is still here to serve the visitor in the room. The ombudsperson helps visitors to clarify goals, identify options, connect to resources, and be empowered in their next steps.