University President Michael Adams issued a plan to create three ombudspersons by Oct. 1 to address sexual harassment issues, and several faculty said they wonder who he will choose and how they will perform in the positions.
"I feel like this is a very well thought-through, comprehensive and prominent statement," Janet Frick, associate professor of psychology and head of the online "UGA Community Condemns Sexual Harassment" petition, said Friday during a phone interview. "I really appreciate the thought that went into the separate components to make a statement about the united response by the University."
The statement, issued by Adams during a cabinet board meeting Friday morning, was sent to students, faculty and staff on the Arch News listserv Friday afternoon.
The three ombudspersons will represent students, faculty and staff - one ombudsperson for students in the Division of Student Affairs, one for faculty in Academic Affairs and one ombudsperson for staff in Human Resources.
"But I have a few questions. How will the University address behavior that's not technically illegal but is beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior?" Frick said. "Legal Affairs mostly tried to combat the illegal activities, so I want to see what will happen with situations that don't rise to the legal definition of sexual harassment. The policy should make a distinction that sexually-laden comments are not appropriate."
Enforcement of the policy will move from the Office of Legal Affairs to the Equal Opportunity Office. Senior administration, deans, associate deans and department heads will undergo non-discrimination and anti-harassment training. Senior administration will begin training May 8. Adams said he will work with University Council to update and revise the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy.
"How will the positions be appointed and chosen?" Frick said. "Patricia Richards [assistant professor of sociology] and I were going to submit a proposal at the next University Council meeting to create an office. A group of law professors at Georgia State worked with the Board of Regents to establish an ombuds office. There's a lot of expertise we can take advantage of, and we don't want to reinvent the wheel."
At the University of Virginia, Brad Holland was selected in 1997 to be the ombudsperson.
Holland explained ombudspersons are "not there to make any decisions. We help parties to come to a resolution."
He said he follows the International Ombu-dsman Association principles of confidentiality, independence, impartiality and informality.
"Ombudspersons interact in an informal process, handled at the lowest level possible," he said.
Ombudsperson programs vary, but at most an ombudsperson listens to complaints informally and refers formal grievances elsewhere.
The University of Wis-consin at Madison created an office in 2003 consisting of four retired faculty and staff who report to the vice provost for diversity and climate. They alternate who answers complaints, and the School of Medicine and Public Health has a separate office, said Luis Piñero, assistant vice provost for workforce equity and diversity at the Univer-sity of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Ombuds work independently from university administrative offices; discussing a matter with an ombuds is confidential and does not constitute notice to the university," according to Wisconsin's Web site. "Working with the ombudsperson, you can explore options ranging from simply talking about your problem to pursuing a formal grievance proceeding."
At the University of Arizona, the Ombuds Committee consists of a program director, two co-chairs, 12 staff, 15 appointed professionals and 10 faculty from various colleges and departments to address different genders, ethnicities and locations on campus, according to Arizona's Web site.
"The Ombuds Committee provides employees and students with an informal option to resolve disputes," said Mary Beth Tucker, associate director of Arizona's Equal Opp-ortunity and Affirmative Action Office. "If an employee or student alleg-es sexual harassment and wishes to pursue a formal investigation, the ombuds will refer the person to my office."