Claussen, left, Old, and Herrlinger in the ombudsman office. (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)
 
 
PULLMAN, Wash. – If you are having a problem at the university and don’t know what to do, call the Office of the University Ombudsman. Established on the Washington State University campus in 1971, its mission is to provide a neutral, informal and confidential process for WSU faculty, staff and students to resolve problems or disputes fairly and equitably.
 
Cathy Claussen, professor in the department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology, and Tena Old, previously with WSU Events and Outreach, each started half-time positions as university ombudspersons this year. They are replacing Ray Jussaume and Judy Krueger, who both left the university recently.
 
Debbie Waite, longtime administrative assistant, left this summer as well and was replaced by Janet Herrlinger, a WSU employee since 2005.
 
“If you don’t know your options, the ombudsman’s office is a good place to start,” Herrlinger said. The staff at the office can:
• Listen and provide a safe, confidential space to discuss university-related grievances
• Empower faculty, staff and students to be their own advocates
• Explain WSU policies or procedures that might govern a particular situation
• Be a neutral observer of discussions between disputing parties
• Make appropriate referrals to other WSU units that might be of assistance
• Identify patterns or trends and make recommendations for improvement
 
The ombuds office staff cannot:
• Take sides
• Participate in a formal grievance policy procedure
• Act as an “office of notice” for an official complaint
• Disclose confidential information unless required by law
 
With more than 34 years total experience with the university, Claussen and Old said they have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. They have chosen to join the ombuds office, they said, because it gives them the opportunity to work with students, faculty and staff on an individual basis.
 
While they cannot always solve problems, they can make sure people know their rights and the processes or procedures relevant to their complaints.
 
Claussen, who was slated to become the chair of the Faculty Senate this year, said the change from being an advocate for faculty issues to a neutral ombudsperson will be challenging, but it puts her in a position to help make contributions that are just as important.
 
“Her role hasn’t diminished, but it has changed,” Old said.
The role of the ombuds office, she said, is not to advocate for particular people, but to make sure policies and procedures are followed and, if necessary, to recommend changes to the policies and procedures.
 
The Office of the University Ombudsman is in Room 2 of Wilson-Short Hall, just across Terrell Mall from the CUB. The office is open 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Appointments are preferred, but walk-in traffic is also welcome. For more information, go to http://ombudsman.wsu.edu or call 335-1195.