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University of Iowa News Release

 

Oct. 5, 2006

Ombudsperson Report Says Job Conflicts Remain Staff's Greatest Concern

University of Iowa staff workers who visited the UI Office of the Ombudsperson last year were mostly concerned about job conflicts, as were staffers who visited the office one year earlier, according to the office's 20th Annual Report. (The full report may be viewed online in PDF format at http://www.uiowa.edu/~ooombuds/20ANNREPT.pdf)

University Ombudspersons Cynthia Joyce and Craig Porter state in their report that 2005-2006 merit staff concerns involved job conflicts 57 percent of the time, compared to 81 percent in 2004-2005. And professional and scientific staff voiced job conflicts 58 percent of the time, compared to 77 percent one year earlier. 

The second-largest complaint among both groups -- discipline, suspension and termination -- saw substantial increases among merit staff, to 22 percent from 9 percent in 2004-2005, and to 27 percent among professional and scientific staff from 8 percent one year earlier.

"Although the number of staff concerns involving job conflicts dropped significantly over the last two years, this remains the largest category of concern for both merit and professional and scientific staff," Porter said. "This supports the results of the Working at Iowa survey, which highlights ineffective management of work-related conflicts. The increase in staff complaints about discipline, suspension and termination is a cause for concern."

Most student concerns again involved academic issues such as grades, credit, plagiarism and conflicts with faculty, teaching assistants and advisors, although there was a substantial year-to-year drop -- from 69 to 57 percent among undergraduate students and from 64 to 57 percent among graduate students.

Joyce commented, "It makes sense that the majority of student concerns that come to us are related to academic issues, since that is the mission of the university, although we handle a wide variety of other student issues, as well."

Most concerns raised by faculty included job conflicts, which increased from 26 to 28 percent of total complaints over the past year, followed by the issues of salary, tenure, promotion and post-tenure review, which dropped from 43 to 27 percent. "The drop in promotion and tenure issues may be due to university efforts to make promotion, tenure and review policies clearer and more consistent," the report states. Also, academic conflicts involving scholarship and/or teaching remained about the same, moving from 24 to 23 percent.

The report shows that the office handled cases involving 256 visitors from July 2005 through June 2006, down from the 400 seen the previous year. Joyce and Porter suggest that the drop may have been due in part to potential clients getting used to a change in personnel. During the year, Joyce became full-time co-ombudsperson, replacing Maile Sagan, who retired after 16 years of service. Porter began a three-year term as part-time faculty co-ombudsperson, replacing Lon Moeller, who had served for four years.

At the same time, the kinds of visitors remained constant, with roughly one-third composed of students, evenly split between undergraduates and graduates; half made up of staff, evenly split between merit staff and professional and scientific staff; and about one-fifth composed of faculty.

In 2005-2006, the office handled five cases alleging age, disability or gender discrimination; four alleging racial discrimination; and seven alleging sexual harassment. The total of 16 such cases is an increase of two cases from the previous year. Also in 2005-2006, the office saw 25 visitors, or 10 percent of all cases handled, with concerns about uncivil behavior, compared with 30, or 8 percent, the previous year. Among other workplace behavioral concerns, the office listed bullying, which has continued since the late 1990s, and conflict avoidance, which can lead to poor work and academic environments.

The report also referenced mental health: "During the last year, we have worked with a number of visitors with identified and probably unidentified mental illness. The impact of mental illness on a workplace or academic setting, especially if undiagnosed and/or untreated, is profound."

UI administrators are encouraged to be aware of potential problems and try to anticipate employees' need for such campus resources as the Well@Work pilot program to help employees cope with depression, Student Disability Services, Faculty and Staff Disability Service, the UI Employee Assistance Program and University Counseling Services.

Additionally, the report noted that while summer youth programs offer valuable experiences to participants and the community, some problems exist in the form of insufficient safeguards should conflicts occur.

In support of the UI strategic plan, the Office of the Ombudsperson prepared its own five-year strategic plan for 2005-2010, emphasizing increased service and partnership, as well as enhanced conflict resolution skills through workshops and coaching.

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.

The full text of the 20th annual report is available on the Web at http://www.uiowa.edu/~ooombuds/ or by mail from the UI Office of the Ombudsperson, C108 Seashore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu