Chapter 05: The Ombuds Office: Early Challenges and Faculty Concerns

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Chapter 05: The Ombuds Office: Early Challenges and Faculty Concerns

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Dr. Brock begins with his first steps in setting up the Ombuds Office and establishing its basic policies for delivering support services. He notes that after a year, it was clear that non-faculty would also benefit from conflict resolution support, and an expansion of the program was warranted. [The recorder is paused.] He then talks about how he and his colleagues in the Ombuds Office raised awareness of their new services for faculty, the impact of their services, and the concerns that faculty brought to them. He notes some of the issues at play that prevented faculty from taking advantage of the Ombuds Office. He explains the differences between services offered and those of HR.

Identifier

BrockW_01_20181204_C05

Publication Date

12-4-2018

Publisher

The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Building the Institution; Overview; Definitions, Explanations, Translations; Institutional Processes; Working Environment; MD Anderson Culture; Understanding the Institution; Personal Background; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose; Critical Perspectives; Critical Perspectives; Ethics; Leadership; On Leadership; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, tell me about... So you are hired into this position, and I always like to ask: what was your mandate in setting up the office? And then what did you want to achieve [laughs] in setting up the office? Because those can sometimes be—nuance each other, so... Bill Brock, PhD Well, the reason I applied for the job, aside from the fact, as I suggested, that we have this program [ ] is that I had been thinking about retiring. I thought, this would be a great thing to do in retirement if I like it, but in the meantime I could set it up and someone else could take it over,. [ ] I went for training in [how to set up an Ombuds Office and how to be an Ombuds. I was also trained in mediation at the South Texas College of Law, but I was far from] being an expert. [ ] I found out that there’s a lot of skills behind [being competent in this job.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What are the skills involved? Bill Brock, PhD Well, neutrality is the most important. You not only have to be neutral, you have to project neutrality, and you have to constantly remind the employees you are speaking with about your neutrality. This is because when you have two people with issues, you talk with them individually at first [and each person seems to] always try and convince you that they’re correct. [They need to be reminded that you are not judging the situation, just helping them discover options for the best possible outcome.] And when you have them together in the same room, in a mediation, say, you have to tell them, “Talk to each other, not to me. I’m not going to make any decisions here.” So that’s certainly one thing. [In addition to neutrality], confidentiality is [extremely important. The office would not continue to exist without extreme confidentiality. I believe we do a great job with confidentiality and] we have a very good track record. [Redacted]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So how did you go about setting up the office? I mean, because this was from scratch, right? Bill Brock, PhD The office was, of course, started from scratch. [ ] Tina Rocha [joined me as the program coordinator] and she stayed with me as long as it was the Faculty Ombuds Office. We put together a policy for the office that we submitted to Dr. Mendelsohn, and it was approved,. [ ] We then started contacting [Ombuds from other instititutions for guidance] and any written material they had on their programs. [ ] [We used this material to construct our own program.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, why was the choice made to limit the scope of services to—or offerings to faculty only at that point? Bill Brock, PhD The mandate that Dr. Mendelsohn had given the committee [was to develop] a conflict resolution program for faculty. [The recommendation of the committee was a Faculty Appeals Policy and a Faculty Ombuds Office, because that was the mandate.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And why is that? Bill Brock, PhD [ ] n’t thinking that broadly, either. [If you are talking about is why we didn’t recommend that the Ombuds Office serve all employees from the beginning, we thought the faculty program would stand on its own. In other words, we didn’t realize that somany conflicts involve both faculty and non-faculty employees.] [ ] So then after running that program for faculty for a couple of years, I had experienced more and more nonfaculty employees coming to the office, asking for help. And since we’re an informal office, and off the record, we “assisted them mainly by providing information and referring them to HR.] [ ] In a meeting with Dr. Mendelsohn again, [I talked to him abou the need for ombuds services for all employees and described ombuds offices throughout the country that serve all employees.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Make your boss happy. That’s a good move. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Absolutely, yeah. Let’s just pause here. Bill Brock, PhD —and then we can... [The recorder is paused]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

—make sure we’ve got our recorder going again. Yes, we are back, after a short break. Do you mind if I ask a couple of more context questions, just before we move forward, or...? Bill Brock, PhD Yeah. Then we’ll come—then let’s come back to this, because I think this next step is kind of important, about expanding the program, so...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. What I guess I wanted to ask was what was already in place, because I know that today you are very clear with people what are the different services that HR offers that employee—I’m sorry, what is it? The EAP, Employee Advocates Program? Bill Brock, PhD Tthe Employee Assistance Program.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Assistance Program. Employee Assistance Program. And that the Ombuds Office are very different. Did HR offer services at the time, in 2000? Were there other conflict resolution or grievance processes in place? And then what made you different? Bill Brock, PhD Yeah. First of all, [what made it difficult for me,] being a faculty member, I didn’t know much about HR. When this program started, it was good that I had Tina Rocha there with me. She understood HR. She [was in a position to teach me about how they operated and about employee policies.] I believe most faculty members don’t know much about HR [and are unaware of many HR services that are available to faculty such as] EAP. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And was it...? You said as faculty you didn’t know anything about HR. I mean, I think often these services are kind of under people’s radar. I mean, it’s a problem of ignorance, or marketing, or—I don’t know. Bill Brock, PhD Right, yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So I’m curious how much of that was at work at the time, as well, that faculty were unaware. Bill Brock, PhD Unaware of the services?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Of that there could be assistance via these other mechanisms. Bill Brock, PhD Yes, you’re right, and very few faculty, I think, used them. And I many faculty are surprised when they get become the subject of an HR investigation. For example, if they are the subject of a complaint by a classified employee, they ask me, “Why is HR coming to me?” That kind of thing. And a lot of other employees are unaware of a lot of the services. And that’s one of the things we do is we steer people toward the appropriate services. That’s one of the main things we do. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD Yeah, because so many people come in with a complaint, and we’ll tell them how they can file a grievance, and they’ll say, “Well, I don’t even know about that. What is that?” So we have those policies all printed out, and give them copies, help them start that process.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, how did you address that in 2000 and immediately after? Because obviously you’re setting up a new service, it’s needed, but then how do you create recognition and trust and awareness and all that? Bill Brock, PhD Oh. Well, we did advertise it at the time, and I asked Dr. Mendelsohn to write memos to all the faculty announcing the program and did that once or twice a year for the first few years. [ ] We also provided faculty with an outline of how faculty should go about managing issues with other faculty, or their supervisors. The outline mentions the Ombuds Office as a first step, but also tells them about the Faculty Appeals Policy. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

How immediately did you find people actually taking advantage of the service? Because— Bill Brock, PhD We had business within the first week.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Really? Bill Brock, PhD One or two faculty members. During the first year we had 33 faculty cases, if I remember correctly.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And were you—how did you assess that number? What did that mean to you? Bill Brock, PhD I kept a database that recorded the number of faculty, the types of issues, and other general information about cases, but of course no identifying information. [ ] [I needed some quantitative data to justify continuation of the program. The number of faculty involved in disputes is important to document, because of the loss of time and productivity.] Two individuals have a dispute and that costs time and threatens collaboration, and then you also involve other employees, the observers and the encouragers, for example. It gets very costly to the institution and that is an important justification for the program.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I don’t—I’m not familiar with those terms. What—who are those people? Bill Brock, PhD Well, okay, let’s imagine that you and I were working in the same department and we are having a dispute. Well I tell my buddies about it, and now they’re involved. And then the word gets out, and other employees are watching and they aren’t working when they’re watching. Still other people encourage it. [ ] Even a small dispute results in a tremendous amount of lost productivity. [ ] The institution loses productivity, loses employees, and replacing them, especially faculty, is very expensive.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. Well, I’m also thinking, too, it’s—the conflict is limited in space and time, hopefully. Even if it’s resolved, however, if it’s gone on it has an impact on the culture, which endures. Bill Brock, PhD That’s a good argument for early conflict resolution, because poorly managed conflict is likely to hurt relationships and that has a negative impact on collaborations. To solve a conflict early can mean solving it in a way that is productive. For example, if two people have an argument over authorship, [there are often collegial ways to solve the issue, but by the time many faculty take action to solve the issue, the relationship has already been harmed.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Also, I mean, it— Bill Brock, PhD Just solving it is the main thing. [laughs]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Just solving it, and also I think it’s—and I’m thinking in today’s contemporary culture where there are very few models of conflict being resolved. It’s more we’re at this place where there are heads yelling at one another. Having a situation in which a conflict is successfully resolved is a wonderful model. It’s like, see, it can be done. And so it’s sort of a beacon for people to keep in mind, which I think is very helpful. Bill Brock, PhD When we first started the Faculty Ombuds Office, I went around to many departmental meetings and told them about the Ombuds Office, and the most important [point I tried to make was that] conflict can be managed, and if properly managed win/win outcomes can be achieved.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Are there people that you find could really, really use the services of the Ombuds Office, but for whatever reason they may be hesitant, or they choose not to come? I mean, what... What is that kind of psychology of coming to get help? Bill Brock, PhD Admitting that you have a problem is not always easy. [ ] [Confronting issues between people requires skill and practice. The approach to manage conflict seems to differ by gender and ethnicity as well, but it is probably quite dependent on individual development.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, a positive change. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So what were some other strategies that you used in the beginning to raise awareness and kind of ease the pathway to the door for folks, encourage people to come and use the services? Bill Brock, PhD Yeah. Well, like I said, [we advertised our office in a number of ways. Dr. Mendelsohn’s memo was very useful because he expressed his support as well as increased awareness.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Till you need it. Bill Brock, PhD [ ] think most of our business comes from word of mouth.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, how did you describe—in the beginning, how did you describe your services, and what the office actually provides? Bill Brock, PhD [ ] I described our basic principles, which included confidentiality, neutrality, independence and informality. [ ] We stress how we’re different and independent from HR, and why our office is the best first stop, because we do not create a record, and we do not start a formal process. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m thinking, too: there’s so many times when people have a very stressful situation in their lives, they got—they have a certain way of telling that story in their own heads, and I think when you sit down and tell it to someone else, that other person can help you come to a more effective way of telling that story, whether it’s to other people, or—and then you can make better decisions about how you choose to act on those events. Bill Brock, PhD [ ] [Yes, that is one of the most important things we do—we listen to their story and then often we reframe it in shorter and more understandable way. When we reframe their concerns, it shows them we understand their story and we give them a more concise version that leaves out inflammatory and misleading statements.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I mean, it’s just—it’s a funny observation I’ve even made from the interview process, because often people come across something that they’ll say, “Turn off the recorder,” and they say “Turn off the recorder” because what’s coming into their heads—they’re angry; they’re upset—what’s coming into their heads is all the stuff they would never want to say on record. But through the process of telling the story, they’ll say, “Okay, turn on the recorder again,” and then they’ve figured it out. They’ve calmed down, they’ve put things into perspective, and they can go ahead, and they can tell that story in a way that they feel comfortable with, and that makes more sense. And I can imagine that that happens all the time in here, when you’ve got a different perspective, and just hearing yourself put something into words that are out there in the marketplace, if you will. Bill Brock, PhD Ye, exactly.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. I’ve also had the flipside happen, and I’m sure you have, too, where someone will say in an interview, “Oh, I’m not sure I’ll want that on the record,” and then they take a look at it in their transcript and they say, “You know, that was okay. It was okay to say that.” Bill Brock, PhD Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So there are different ways of putting things into perspective just by sharing it with someone else. Yeah. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

You are performing for everybody. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Abs—and how emotions are interleaved, and do alter your own perception. You need to have those checks of other ears and eyes, what’s going on.

Conditions Governing Access

Redacted

Chapter 05: The Ombuds Office: Early Challenges and Faculty Concerns

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