Chapter 06: The Ombuds Office: Early Lessons Learned and an Expansion of Services

Title

Chapter 06: The Ombuds Office: Early Lessons Learned and an Expansion of Services

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Dr. Brock begins this chapter by talks about the lessons he learned personally and professionally through this early work with the Ombudsman's Office. He talks about the array of issues brought to the Office. He discusses the actions taken when issues are brought to the attention of upper level leadership and the reasons for the lack of action. Next, Dr. Brock talks about the process of expanding ombudsman services beyond the faculty and hiring Anu Rao to head the office and develop a program for all employees. Interview Session Two: 22 January 2019

Identifier

BrockW_01_20181204_C06

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; Personal Background; 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; Institutional Politics; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m curious of what were the big themes that were coming up as faculty were coming. You mentioned authorship, suggestions— Bill Brock, PhD Okay, back—still with the faculty?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, I’m thinking in those early years. Because this is an interesting time. You’ve said you’re not an expert, you’re—so you’re kind of learning on the job— Bill Brock, PhD Absolutely.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

—what is this going to be in this institution. Bill Brock, PhD Right. Yeah, exactly.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So what were you learning? [laughs] Bill Brock, PhD I learned a lot from this endeavor. It changed my life in many ways. I really learned that there is a science behind managing conflict. And also about... I’m involved in more conflict than I think I am, right? I can now recognize it and know more than I did before. [ ] [laughs]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, just really about what were you learning during these initial years, the institution, and... Bill Brock, PhD You asked what types of faculty conflicts were coming to the office, and you mentioned publications. That’s a big one, but then I’ve had issues from sexual harassment, intellectual property, [salary, resources, clinical assignments, and so on.] About seventy percent of the issues were related to interpersonal issues between colleagues or direct supervisors.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And what do you mean by that? Bill Brock, PhD Between two people. Most were between a faculty member and their supervisor, typically their chair. However many conflicts were between two faculty members --colleagues. And it could be over space. It could be over loud talking. It could be anything. [ ] There’s all kinds of things like that. A lot of issues are about management by chairs. I think that that issue may be improving, but it’s still a problem. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Just— Bill Brock, PhD Another common issue is promotion. Some faculty feel they haven’t been put up for a promotion in a timely manner. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What do they—what—they’re afraid they’ll lose their job? Bill Brock, PhD [ ] [Yes, there are many faculty members who fear losing their job. Even some tenured faculty seem to fear that their contracts won’t be renewed, even though term tenure provides good protection.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I know Tom Burke [oral history interview] had mentioned that there was a particular period when there was kind of issues of—incivility was really coming forward as a problem, and so there were steps taken to address that, and... Bill Brock, PhD Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

But you feel that some of that is easing, and...? Bill Brock, PhD I think it’s easing, and I think it has to do with a lot of young people coming in that know better.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. Bill Brock, PhD Yeah. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And I know, too, that even sometimes not even within the scope of something that looks like harassment—I mean, other cultures have different conventions about how close you stand to someone, or just the proxemics thing, and it may have nothing to do with male/female but just people tend to position themselves—they don’t need as much space as Americans do around them to feel psychologically comfortable. So there can be those issues, too. Bill Brock, PhD I had a young woman come to me and say that her boss brought her into his office and said, “You have such beautiful blue eyes.” And she says, “Thank you.” Then he says, “Do you like your job here?” [laughs] Oh my God. I thought, how stupid can a person be? So, now, how do you prove that?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Exactly, yeah. Exactly. [laughs] Bill Brock, PhD I’m no expert on this.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I wanted to just quickly ask you about the question of leaders not being taught to lead, and then there’s the Faculty Leadership Academy that came in and all that, and did you find that sort of addressing that pipeline and providing some of those skills, that that began to change issues that you were seeing here? Because it’s in—you’re providing an important set of services that are addressing the culture, and then there are other things going on. I’m interested in how they all start interacting with one another. Bill Brock, PhD You know, I’ve had examples that were successes, right? But I must say, I have little measurable evidence that I’ve changed anything, when it comes to that, because we still have quite a few people who just ignore the rules. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And what’s— Bill Brock, PhD [ ] Our new president [Peter Pisters, MD], for example, certainly seems to be enlightened, [but cultural change is slow].

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, totally different. The subject matter that he raises in his public presentations is different from other presidents. Bill Brock, PhD Now, the question is [will behavior change?] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What do you think those barriers are? Bill Brock, PhD Well, if [a faculty member is very successful, gains a good reputation in the scientific community, and is] very good at bringing in money to the institution, [there may be alittle hesitation before they become subject to disciplinary action.] They get away with more, even though they shouldn’t. And it’s—people can talk the talk, but when it comes to action, it’s not so easy. It’s not so easy. [This is part of the slowness of cultural change.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. Bill Brock, PhD That’s the kind of advice I thought I would never give anyone.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh my gosh. Bill Brock, PhD And I think I was right in that case. About two years later that situation was corrected. [ ] I don’t know the details of it. I just know the outcome. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, that’s good. And what do— Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD Okay, [back to the] transition [of the Ombuds Office to serve all employees.] I told Dr. Mendelsohn that we were getting a lot of cases of conflict between faculty and nonfaculty. Many employees were saying, “We’ve heard about the Ombuds Office, we want to use it, can we.” [The problem was that I was perceived as being a representative of the faculty member. After all, this was the “Faculty Ombuds Office”.] I told Dr. Mendelsohn, “I really think it’s a good idea to look into expanding this program for all employees.” I talked to him about [the need for a confidential resource for all employees that was separate from the administration and Human Resources. We also discussed] the economic advantages of it. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What were the arguments that you made for that, or the supports that you presented for the economic advantages? Bill Brock, PhD Well, yeah, turnover is a big problem here, and so that was one of the arguments there. The loss of productivity there, and the need. And I told—I tried to convince him that people really trust the office, and he’d seen the results in the faculty. And so he was very openminded to it, and told me to write a proposal. And I’d already written one, so I gave it to him.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What year was this? Bill Brock, PhD Probably 2004 or ’05, somewhere around there. He took the proposal to the President’s Advisory Committee [and I also presented the proposal to them.] [ ] [There was some opposition, but most of the committee seemed to like the idea.] [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ] [Redacted] Bill Brock, PhD [ ] Dr. Mendelsohn’s committee approved the program expansion, but before we could implement the program, there was a big economic crunch, and it was shelved. [The proposal was resurrected in 2006 [with excellent support.] [ ] [I made it clear that I was not interested in being the director of the expended program because I didn’t feel qualified to set up an institution wide program with my limited experience.] I had some success with the faculty, but we need an experienced professional to set up a program the right we. I said, “We need to do a national search [and find a highly qualified professional with lots of experience.”

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s interesting, yeah. Bill Brock, PhD [ ] [I am not sure that a faculty member would have been the best person for the job.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] [Redacted]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

[ ] Bill Brock, PhD So, we did have a national search, and we found Anu Rao [ ] .

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’ve heard her name, but I haven’t interviewed her, or... Yeah. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, interesting. Okay. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, all right. $$ Bill Brock, PhD Okay. Anu was trained at Penn. [She graduated from the Wharton MBA Program there], and she [ ] had a lot of experience running ombuds programs. [At the time we recruited her, she was working as an Ombuds for the Coca Cola Corporation in Atlanta.] [ ] [When she arrived at MDA she hit the ground running, organizing expanded space, developing a policy that covered all employees, writing a charter for office operations, prepared new literature, and made contact with much of the staff. We soon had an active training program, tailored for different employee groups and the doors opened with a large group of employees waiting.] [ ] [She even had a real “elevator talk” she used every day.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, wow. Bill Brock, PhD [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow, wow. Bill Brock, PhD And so she was great for the program, and got it off really on the right foot, and we had a really good working relationship, and hired more Ombuds staff.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. Bill Brock, PhD She was really good. [ ]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Was this focusing on conflict management? Bill Brock, PhD Yes. Everything was related to conflict management. [ ] Employees loved it, the classes were full. [ ] [Everyone is interested in conflict and they get very interested when we describe how it can be managed.]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Well, I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t have it in their life. [laughter] It’s kind of the human problem, and particularly in institutions. Bill Brock, PhD Yes, [ ] once you get at least two people in the room, need conflict management.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And you have conflict management, yeah. Bill Brock, PhD Yes, it’s true. When you’re meeting with anyone, you’re strategizing. You can’t help it, and it’s different depending on how many people are in the room, or who they are, and so forth.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Absolutely true. Well, do you want to close off for today, and then we’ll figure out another time, and then we’ll kind of continue the story? Bill Brock, PhD Let’s do it after the first of the year.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay, that sounds good. Sounds like a plan. I will look at my calendar. All right, well, I will just— Bill Brock, PhD Okay, send an email, and we’ll do that, and I’ll look around for a CV to send to you.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sounds good. Well, I will—just want to say for the record that it is five minutes of 1:00, and I am turning off the recorder. And I want to say thank you again. Bill Brock, PhD You’re welcome, and thank you for doing this. I know that people in this office are looking forward to... [laughs]

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, good. Bill Brock, PhD And when they...

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. No, I had a lovely chat with the team, and, yeah, they’re thinking about really great uses for it, so... Yeah, thank you.

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Chapter 06: The Ombuds Office: Early Lessons Learned and an Expansion of Services

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