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Berkeleyan

Eat, drink, and be civil as Ombuds Office turns 20

09 September 2004


With more than 90 years of campus service among them, the veteran team at the Staff Ombuds Office — from left, Ombudsperson Carmen McKines, Director Margo Wesley, and Assistant Ombudsperson Michele Bernal — strives to create what Wesley calls "a place of welcome" for Berkeley staff. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Conflict resolution will give way to celebration at Fox Cottage on Thursday, Sept. 23, when the Staff Ombuds Office holds a daylong open house to mark 20 years of peacekeeping efforts on behalf of the Berkeley campus community.

From its cozy, fairy tale-style hideaway on Bowditch Street, the three-person unit offers informal, confidential advice to an average of 400 to 500 individuals each year — most of them more than once —as well as hundreds more in group sessions and workshops. The office also provides a variety of other services aimed at ameliorating workplace conflicts, from dust-ups with supervisors to breakdowns in e-mail etiquette.

“We’re doing a lot to help people not just resolve conflicts, but prevent conflicts,” says Margo Wesley, the office’s director. In addition to consultation and mediation, the office’s services — available to all non-academic staff, and to faculty who work with staff — include a variety of classes and workshops, often tailored to the needs of specific departments. (For a complete list of services, visit the office’s website at ombudsforstaff.berkeley.edu.)

Workplace stress has been exacerbated of late, she notes, by the lack of raises for staff, increased workloads, reorganizations, layoffs, and other budget-related issues. But it won’t disappear when financial pressures ease.

“There will always be conflicts — that’s the nature of the human condition,” says Wesley, who’s been with the office since 1997. By providing a neutral listening post for all sides, “we strive to break apart the big ball of conflict into manageable threads.”

Established in 1984, the Staff Ombuds Office moved its operations into Fox Cottage, a historical landmark (designed and built by Cal alum Carl Fox), in 2001, after the Hobbit-hutch structure was bought by the university and moved two blocks to its current site.

“We feel very privileged to work in this little treasure of a building,” Wesley says. “By exploring constructive approaches to dealing with conflicts, we’re doing our best to make it a safe and comfortable place for people to come and feel better about working at UC Berkeley.”

The cottage, which is unmarked in the interests of visitors’ privacy, is at 2350 Bowditch. On Sept. 23, the campus community is encouraged to drop by for conflict-free conversation — as well as refreshments — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.