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University of Iowa News Release

August 18, 2004

UI Ombudsperson Report: Tensions High In Face Of Looming Budget Cuts

Uncertainty related to pending budget cuts is creating a high level of workplace tension at the University of Iowa, one of several factors contributing to the sharp increase in incivility complaints to the Office of the Ombudsperson in the last year, according to the office's 18th Annual Report.

The report notes that after four years of decline in incivility cases, the 2003-04 academic year saw reports of incivility more than double to 102 cases from 48 in 2002-03. More than 80 percent of these complaints came from merit and professional and scientific staff members, said Maile Sagen, university ombudsperson.

She attributed the increase to feelings of insecurity as offices that were recommended for budget reductions by the General Education Fund (GEF) Task Force await word on how much and when they will have to trim their budgets.

The GEF Task Force was asked last spring to identify $12 million in reductions of GEF usage over a two- to three-year period. UI President David Skorton implemented $2 million in GEF reductions for the current fiscal year and said decisions on the remaining $10 million of recommendations would be made after additional campus consultation this fall.

"Employees are just waiting to see how large the cuts will be and who will get furlough notices," Sagen said. "There's a fear of the unknown and the sooner decisions are made the better off people will be. They need to know so they can plan for the future."

The report calls on UI administrators to be "thoughtful and timely in announcing the next round of cuts."

Overall, the Office of the Ombudsperson had 409 new contacts during academic 2003-04, an increase of 35 percent over the previous year. The number of cases was up in all categories--students, staff, and faculty.

The majority of the 96 student complaints involved academic issues such as difficulties with dissertation advisors and/or committee members for graduate students and grade appeals and changing requirements for a major for undergraduates.

Staff complaints, primarily related to job conflicts, increased by 56 percent this year to 230, with slightly more cases filed by merit staff than professional and scientific staff.

Faculty cases increased by 67 percent this year, with 80 new cases dealing with issues such as job conflicts, conflicts involving teaching/research, difficulties with promotion and tenure and increased teaching loads.

Singled out for praise in the report was the Department of Nursing Services and Care at UI Hospitals and Clinics for achieving the prestigious Magnet Designation for Nursing Excellence. Also, the report encouraged wide participation in the Year of the Arts and Humanities, an opportunity for campus-wide dialogue and celebration that is "central to the University's mission and to our lives."

Finally, the report encourages the University to reinstate First-Year Seminars, which were eliminated in the 2004 budget cuts. The seminars are "popular, fill up immediately, provide more individual attention and may help with recruitment and retention of undergraduate students." Eliminating them "does not seem to be a wise or cost effective budget cut," the report notes.

The Office of the Ombudsperson serves students, faculty and staff by offering a confidential, neutral and independent dispute resolution service. The UI president appoints university ombudspersons. Sagen serves as the staff ombudsperson. Lon Moeller, clinical associate professor in the Tippie College of Business, is serving as the half-time faculty ombudsperson.

Both Sagen and Moeller have informed President Skorton that they will leave the Office of the Ombudsperson during the next academic year. Sagen will retire and Moeller will become co-director of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center in the College of Law. A review of the office is in progress, after which plans will be made to conduct an internal search for the half-time faculty position and a national search for the full-time position.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu.