MSU’s ombudsperson office first in nation to reach 50 years
Michigan State University’s Office of the University Ombudsperson has become the first in the United States to reach 50 years of operation and continues to serve as a national leader.
The Office of the University Ombudsperson, which helps students resolve concerns and understand options within the university, regularly gets inquiries from other ombudspersons about research and methods of collecting data, level of independence from the university and other issues.
“Being the first office to reach the 50-year milestone really speaks volumes to Michigan State’s commitment to student well-being, student safety and student rights and responsibilities,” said Robert Caldwell, who serves as MSU’s fifth ombudsperson.
About three-quarters of disputes brought to the office each year relate to academics. Issues include grade disputes, concerns about exams, academic dishonesty, registration, academic hearings and academic status.
Non-academic disputes include financial aid, housing and special issues. The office also identifies outdated policies that need revision and makes recommendations to appropriate individuals within MSU’s academic governance or administration.
In addition to helping students solve disputes, the office also assists faculty members in navigating rules and regulations that may apply to a student matter.
The office came into being on March 16, 1967, after the MSU Board of Trustees passed Article X of the Academic Freedom Report, now called the Student Rights and Responsibilities. Many colleges around the country were in turmoil throughout the 1960s and 1970s – a period of protests and unrest that created a window of opportunity and a need to establish an ombudsperson.
After MSU established the office, an entire generation of ombuds offices popped up around the country. The first ombudsperson at MSU, James Rust, acted as a mentor or adviser to any institution seeking help, informally leaving MSU’s footprint on the ombuds community.
Caldwell and Shannon Lynn Burton, associate university ombudsperson, continue to receive similar inquiries that would come in to Rust and previous ombudspersons Carolyn Steiber, Joy Curtis and Stan Soffin.
“We are still in touch with Dr. Curtis and Dr. Soffin,” said Burton. “So we have all of their ombuds knowledge to lean on as well.”
Burton also serves as co-chair of the Research and Assessment Committee for the International Ombuds Association, or IOA, as well as co-Editor for the Journal of the IOA.
MSU’s ombuds office caters to the new generation of students, faculty and parents that tend to seek online resources, solving many disputes before making physical contact with the office. As a result, the office’s website has seen an immense amount of traffic in recent years. There were more than 73,000 visits to the office website between May 2016 and May 2017.
“About the same mix of problems, the same mix of people come every year, in terms of faculty, students, parents, alumni and administrators that contact us. It really is remarkable in a sense,” Caldwell said.
The office will host events for 2017 to commemorate its anniversary. Headlining the events are two professional conferences – the Michigan Caucus of Educational Ombuds and the 2017 Summer Meeting of Academic Ombuds – both of which will take place at MSU.
For more information about the office or events, visit https://ombud.msu.edu/.