By Sam Zacher
The newly retired emeritus professor from the Department of Veterinary Biosciences has been named Ohio State’s second faculty ombudsman, replacing Jack Rall.
“I think Jack Rall has gotten the office off on a very good foot, and my particular goal would be to keep moving on the trajectory he set up,” Olson said. “It’s hard to say you’re looking forward to it because if you have work in this position, then that means there are problems.
“But I applied for the job because I thought it was something I could contribute to and have it be of interest to me,” she said. “I’m delighted to be selected.”
Essentially, the ombudsman serves as an advisor and mediator for faculty problems — he or she does not deal with student complaints — and operates with a few main responsibilities: advise faculty to help determine the viability of their complaints and issues; direct faculty to appropriate offices, committees and university rules and policies; mediate “early-stage complaints” as an unbiased party; and annually report the office’s activities to the Faculty Council in early autumn.
“I am really happy to learn that the president has appointed Lynne Olson as the next faculty ombudsman,” said Tim Gerber, secretary of University Senate. “She brings an extensive track record of supporting faculty and promoting the principles of academic freedom and responsibility that we all embrace. I think the faculty will see her appointment as very good news.”
Rall was the first and only Faculty Ombudsman at OSU, as the position was established at Ohio State in 2010 in order to have someone to deal with faculty concerns. He worked with 130 faculty members on various issues during his three years.
Ohio State’s Faculty Ombudsman is a member of the International Ombudsman Association, which means that when dealing with those problems, Olson must work with a few main principles in mind.
Those include confidentiality — conversations with the ombudsman are kept quiet to the extent of the law; informality — such conversations simply involve giving suggestions or advice; independence — although the ombudsman reports directly to the Faculty Council, he/she does not represent any university office or individual; and impartiality — when mediating or advising, that person must remain entirely unbiased, not choosing any side of an argument.
“I think the faculty need to think of the ombudsman as a resource, to be a place where hopefully they would feel comfortable talking about issues,” Olson said. “Whether it’s just to blow off steam or because whether they want an opinion on whether their perception is correct and needs to be looked at by some other body… and understand very clearly that the position is not one of advocacy for either the individual faculty member or the administration, that it’s a confidential, impartial, informal way to just get some input.”
The university looks for an ombudsman with knowledge of rules and policies, and Olson certainly has the experience for the job.
“Dr. Olson has been consistently productive over her 30 years here in her research agenda, in teaching and in service,” Gerber said.
In addition, Olson is thoughtful about why the ombudsman position exists and how she needs to help people.
“When people’s sense of fair play is violated is when they would be most likely to come forward and complain,” she said. “My understanding of the importance of fairness and justice affecting people’s feelings of self worth and their willingness to work and sense of happiness with an organization is also good preparation for me.”
Faculty Ombudsman is a 20 percent position for the newly retired Olson, and she has lots of support going into the job.
“I’ve always believed Lynne to be a great university citizen,” Gerber said. “She’s very genuine in her approach, very collegial, and she’s a good listener. She will quickly earn faculty trust.”
Rall saw first-hand the importance of having an ombudsman in office
For the last three years, Professor Emeritus Jack Rall served as the Ohio State University Faculty Ombudsman. Rall, a professor of Physiology and Cell Biology before his retirement, was the first Buckeye ombudsman; the position was established as an initiative of University Senate in 2010.
“Jack invented the modern incarnation of Faculty Ombudsman here,” said Tim Gerber, secretary of the Senate. “He has helped hundreds of faculty develop resourceful approaches to resolving serious problems.”
As ombudsman, Rall advised faculty on myriad issues, ranging from contract disputes to students bullying faculty to workload policy, as listed in his annual reports. He submitted his last report earlier this month before he left office.
There are a number of principles and guidelines that the ombudsman must follow, and Rall has taken them very seriously.
“The impression I want to give the faculty is that number one, they are going to talk to a neutral party,” Rall said. “I’m not an advocate for the faculty or for the administration. It’s entirely voluntary and entirely confidential. And you’re going to talk to a colleague — you’re not going to talk to a dean or a chair.”
“Dr. Rall has been a model of confidentiality and impartiality,” Gerber said. “Faculty in all colleges across campus came to respect and trust Jack’s thoughtful experience, his patience and ultimately his wisdom — qualities we expect the Faculty Ombudsman to bring to this post. We will miss him.”
Faculty increasingly sought out Rall after the position was established. The number of interactions with the ombudsman increased from 64 to 85 over Rall’s first two years. He had to be away from the office for two months after his retirement from faculty in 2012, and Gerber held the position in the interim.
“This was an opportunity to give back to the faculty,” Rall reflected. “It has been enriching in the twilight of my career to have this experience.”