Hearing aid
Staff Ombuds Office helps staff resolve all manner of conflicts

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


ombuds staff

Left to right: Ombudsperson Carmen McKines, Staff Ombuds Office Director Margo Wesley, and Assistant Ombudsperson Michele Bernal.
Noah Berger photo

15 August 2002 | As the “ear of the campus,” the Staff Ombuds Office works to make campus staff feel heard. The group provides confidential, informal, and impartial information and assistance in resolving work-related concerns and conflicts.

And with recent changes, the office is in an even better position to accomplish this goal: It has a new home, new leadership, and a slew of new programs slated for the coming year. In addition, a new employee, Carmen McKines, adds her exceptional background in conflict resolution to the mix.

Since moving to new digs on Bowditch Street, the three-person staff has settled in nicely, says Margo Wesley, who was appointed director of the Ombuds Office in February. “Staff frequently comment that they find this new space a safe, comforting place to open up about their problems,” she says.

The fairytale-style cottage has become a tourist attraction as well, with curious passersby taking pictures and asking questions about it. Someone once scribbled “Hobbits live here” in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the cottage, Wesley recalls.

“Hobbits work miracles, and I’d like to think that we do as well,” says McKines, who became an ombudsperson in March, after serving as the campus’s Title IX compliance officer. In her new position, she hopes to help staff and those who supervise them “shine a light” on their conflicts. Another goal is to help facilitate respect for differences in the workplace.

“I coach folks to see things from different angles,” she says of her approach. “We can get so locked into a conflict, feeling like our backs are against the wall.”

“People sometimes feel so helpless when they first call us,” says Assistant Ombudsperson Michele Bernal, who handles intake, scheduling, and referrals for the office. “But we can usually offer up a number of options and help them choose which is best.”

While welcoming all calls from staff, Wesley says the office is taking a more proactive approach toward avoiding discord. Through classes and workshops — several of which will launch this fall — the ombuds- persons hope to expand staffers’ ability to prevent or deal with difficult situations on their own. In these trainings, staff can learn more about such topics as conflict resolution, communication, and civility.

A recently added class deals with the use of e-mail and the pitfalls that can ensue.

“E-mail is a quick and efficient tool, but it’s not the best way to share controversial or sensitive information,” says Wesley. “We try to help people understand when
e-mail is and isn’t appropriate.”

Special trainings for managers and supervisors focus on mediating and managing conflict in the workplace, and include role-playing sessions. In the fall, the office will begin an informal brown-bag discussion series, where staff can discuss selected topics and learn about the services the office provides.

In addition to “off-the-record” one-on-one sessions and classes, the Ombuds Office also offers group counseling and mediation services. Its lending library is stocked with books on conflict resolution, civility, organizational behavior, and communication.

For information, call 642-7823, or visit


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