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The Om-what-man?

Your heart begins to beat faster as you click on StuInfo. Grades have finally been entered. You\’re pretty sure you did OK in your classes, but you\’re getting nervous nonetheless. You scan down the row of your college report card. 3.5, 3.0, another 3.5…2.0? You\’re shocked. You totally rocked that IAH class, so this makes no sense. You start to wonder if maybe the professor had something against you. You didn\’t skip class, did all the reading, did well on the exams…what\’s going on? Where do you go from here?
Let me introduce you to the university ombudsman.
[stan] “The om-what-man?” (The reaction I got from most students when I asked them if they knew about this person.)
The ombudsman. So now that we’ve got the name straightened out, what does it mean? John Skoutelas, marketing junior, said he was positive he’d heard of him but couldn’t think of what he did.
Like Skoutelas, many students don’t know about the ombudsman, but should. Why? Because he is there to help lead students in the right direction, especially when they are faced with academic or non-academic issues or concerns. The ombudsman helps to resolve student and professor problems and conflicts in a neutral, informal, and confidential manner. Stan Soffin is the fourth ombudsman of MSU and has been the ombudsman since 1999.
A history lesson
In 1967, MSU was the second college or university to establish such an office. “[MSU’s Office of the Ombudsman] is the longest continually running office,” Soffin said. In 1967, the Academic Freedom Report was formed out of a campus-wide controversy. A graduate student, who had dropped out of school for the spring term, distributed a four-page publication called Logos underneath residence dorm doors. The publication was about the demands the group Committee for Student Rights wanted then-President John Hannah and MSU to adopt. “To stop the distribution of Logos, President Hannah invoked a new regulation that required all such literature to be approved before being distributed,” Soffin said. “Logos had not been approved.”
This student wanted to return to MSU, but President Hannah blocked his admittance. The case went to court but before the appeal was heard, President Hannah decided to allow the student to come back to the university. President Hannah started a committee that wrote the Academic Freedom Report which states in Article 7, “The President shall appoint a senior faculty member with the title of Ombudsman. The Ombudsman shall respect the sensitive and confidential nature of the position and the privacy of all persons soliciting assistance from the Office of the Ombudsman, thereby protecting them against retribution.” And there you have it, the rest is, you guessed it – history.
One resource to remember
As Soffin said, the ombudsman is like a spare tire. “We are out of the mind and concern [of students] until you need it.” Many students don’t know about the ombudsman until they have an academic or non-academic (the two complaint categories) issue they need help with. “Most are academic,” Soffin said.
Soffin’s responsibilities are to listen to the issue or problem at hand, explain the student or professor their rights and responsibilities, review the university’s policies and regulations to the student or professor, suggest fair options, refer the student or professor to appropriate university resources, and/or to investigate the allegations, if necessary. The ombudsman will not investigate their allegations without the student or professor’s permission.
Sasha Khan, a journalism graduate student, said, “He’s not there to ‘solve’ your problems, he’s just simply ‘guides’ you [to] where and who to talk to.” Khan attended Arizona State University for her undergraduate education, but never knew of or talked to ASU’s ombudsman. The only reason Khan found out about MSU’s ombudsman was through someone she knew. “[I heard] from a friend of mine who’s a prof at ASU,” Khan said. “[He] told me to call him and tell him my complaint.”
Like Khan, most people hear about the guidance of the ombudsman through word of mouth. With approximately 43,000 students, it’s hard to get the word out about the help the ombudsman can provide, because of the changeover. “Every four years we get new students,” Soffin said.[door]
With the average college student spending only four active years on campus, it is hard to learn their rights as a student, unless faced with a specific problem. Khan thinks students don’t know their rights because of the length of the student handbook (which explains student’s rights in detail). “It’s lengthy, it’s tedious, and nobody ever reads it,” Khan said. “I think they should have a more simplified way. I’d like to have a brief list of my rights handed to me on the first day of the class with the syllabus. If the prof in class took a minute to say ‘listed on this page are your rights regarding this issue, this issue, this issue’ then yeah, I’d pay attention. I mean they go over the syllabus, why not our rights?”
Your rights
So what exactly are the rights you should be aware of?
1. The right to have a grievance trial in a case with an unfair professor.
As stated in Article 2.4.2, “If problems arise in the relationship between instructor and student, both should attempt to resolve them in informal, direct discussions. If the problem remains unresolved, then the chief administrator of the unit and/or the Ombudsman should be consulted. If still aggrieved, a student may then submit a formal, written grievance for consideration by an appropriate hearing board…”
Just don’t try lying to the ombudsman to get a grievance trial or to get a professor in trouble. He’s been doing this for long enough that he can tell when one is lying.
2. Professors have the obligation to distribute a course syllabus at the beginning of each semester.
This syllabus should include, at least: course objectives, contact information and office hours, grading scale and criteria, date of final exam, tentative dates of required assignments, quizzes, and tests, an attendance policy if different than the university policy, and required course materials (textbooks and supplies). If a professor does not supply a syllabus at the beginning of the year, visit the Ombudsman to take action.
3. Students have the right to view their student records and conduct.
Article 3.2.3 states, “A student shall have the right to inspect the official transcript of his or her own academic record and shall also have the right to inspect reports and evaluations of his or her conduct.” This means as a student, over the age of 18, you have a right to expect your personal information, such as your educational records, schedules, enrollment records, grades, or evaluations from professors. This information is kept confidential and will only be disclosed with your permission or as allowed by law. Any student can look through their folder whenever they have the need.
Skoutelas said he’d visit or consult the ombudsman if he had a concern that his friends hadn’t experienced before. “I think that students probably ask their peers or friends about what they should do if they have a problem,” he said. “But if I didn’t know anyone that fixed a similar situation than I’d go to him [the ombudsman] if I needed help.”
In her freshman year, Joanna Kagey, now a community services junior, had a Math 103 teaching assistant who didn\’t speak English very well. She had a 4.0 going into the final and received a 3.0 on the exam. When Kagey opened her StuInfo to find she had received a 3.0 in the class, she was very frustrated and upset. She immediately e-mailed him but never heard anything back. “I gave up and accepted the grade and still to this day am upset about it,” Kagey said. “I just took the easy way out and accepted it. I definitely would have went [to the ombudsman] if I had known. I was a freshman and didn’t know.” Kagey didn’t remember being given information regarding the ombudsman, but said it would’ve helped to know beforehand where to go if a situation like the one she was in occurred.
Like Kagey, many students just accept the grade without knowing someone could have given them advice. “If he could’ve given me help, my GPA would have been different, but it’s too late now,” Kagey said.
It’s not too late for you. If you receive a grade this semester that you weren’t expecting and have proof (i.e. old tests, assignments, papers, etc.) visit the ombudsman for advice on how to take action.
For questions with any academic or non-academic issue or concern, visit or call the Office of the Ombudsman. The office is located in 129 N. Kedzie Hall and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call (517) 353-8830.
It’s now even easier to receive direction from the ombudsman by visiting the Office of the Ombudsman webpage, http://www.msu.edu/unit/ombud/. You can fill out the problem form and within a day receive fair and equal guidance for the next possible action to take. There are also frequently asked questions located on the Web site for a quick reference.

One Response to “The Om-what-man?”

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