University ombuds office releases annual report

The University of Oregon Ombuds Program has released its annual report for the most recent fiscal year, providing an overview of services provided from July 2022 to June 2023. 

The report is available on the Ombuds Program website.

The Ombuds Program provides confidential, impartial, independent and informal conflict management assistance to members of the university community. The annual report includes nonidentifiable aggregate case data to report trends and topics that may be useful to campus partners, leaders and the university community. 

University Ombuds Brett Hathaway Harris said the report reflects concerns about workplace climate that are consistent with those found in the university-wide IDEAL Climate Survey. The survey of faculty members, officers of administration, classified staff and graduate employees was conducted by Gallup in April 2022.  

"Many of the cases that people are bringing to the ombuds program are related to the climate of their unit," Harris said. "That trend is increasing every year," and demonstrates the increasing need for services related to the campus climate. 

Harris served on the climate survey response, reporting and anti-discrimination working group and the climate survey recommendations implementation task force. Some recommendations from the climate survey have been implemented while work on others continues, she added.  

About half of all cases brought to the ombuds program involved "evaluative relationships," meaning those between managers or supervisors and supervisees. Harris said in her experience at the UO, and at other ombuds programs, roughly half the concerns brought involve such relationships.  

"People are impacted by the person that supervises them and the people they supervise," she said. "This is why it is important to develop strong skills in supervisors and to promote good interpersonal relationships and communication."  

The new report shows the total number of cases decreased slightly year over year, from 349 to 321, as did the number of visitors seeking out services — 408, down from 460 the previous year. 

However, the number of hours spent working on cases increased, from 2,600 to 2,800, due to the complexity of cases and other factors.  

The office resolved 79 percent of cases it saw, compared to 77 percent the previous year. 

Peer-colleague relationships accounted for 14 percent of concerns brought, followed by organizational, strategic and mission related (8.1 percent), compensation and benefits (5.9 percent), and career progression and development, and safety, health and physical environment (each at 5.6 percent). 

In terms of university area or division, colleges and schools accounted for 43.3 percent of cases, which is proportional to roughly half of university employees who work in those areas, followed by the Office of the Provost administrative units and Finance and Administration (10.3 percent each), Student Services (8.7 percent) and Student Life (5.9 percent). 

Officers of administration accounted for 28.2 percent of case participants, followed by faculty (23.8 percent), academic administrators (9.3 percent), graduate students (8.8 percent), classified staff (8.6 percent), non-academic administrators (6.6 percent), undergraduate students (5.9 percent), and parents or student representatives (2.9 percent).  

Most ombuds services are handled remotely. Of the 1,200 meetings conducted in the most recent fiscal year, just 35, or 3 percent, were requested to be held in person.