Review of Ombudsperson, Deborah Dodge's first year in position
Deborah Dodge, the newly hired ombudsperson for Central Michigan University as of last November, is closing in on her first year in the position.
Dodge received her bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies from Portland State University. She then got her master’s degree from Vanderbilt University in higher education administration with a focus in leadership, policy, and organization.
After her master’s she held various positions within student services and academic affairs. Responsibilities included student and campus grievances, student conduct, curriculum management, and academic requests, as well as administrative responsibility for student wellness units and resource constructs such as the behavioral intervention team.
The campus ombudsperson is a confidential resource for students, parents, faculty, and staff members to receive answers and feedback to their questions, comments, and concerns.
Central Michigan Life conducted an interview with Dodge to get a better understanding of her position as ombudsperson.
In a brief overview can you explain what you do in a day as an ombudsperson?
Dodge: Every morning to start off my day I recite what I call my oath of practice, which is composed of an ombuds core values. Each week I always focus on one of CMU's six Leadership Standards, and then at the end of my week, I write a note of appreciation to someone who showed that standard during a partnership or discussion. Doing these things keeps me where I want to be, feeling privileged to serve in this role.
As far as my daily tasks go, in my role I tend to have a lot of meetings with people who need my help, I refer to them as my visitors. I usually get a mix of phone calls or in person meetings, thankfully most people now prefer to meet in person rather than through Zoom. Drop ins are always welcome. I have my door open as often as I can. I always try to work in a break somewhere within my day as a chance to refocus. During my breaks, I either do some meditation, catch up on articles I want to read, or do some writing.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you face as an ombudsperson?
“Oftentimes the people I help are phoning another office and they are transferred to me. A lot of the time the caller does not even know what an ombudsperson is. Sometimes when I pick up the phone I’ll have this dead air and then I’ll introduce myself and go into detail about what my job entails.
Another challenge is people assuming that I can solve everyone’s problems within my position. If a student or parent called the billing office due to a disputed charge on their account and they are referred to me they may assume oh the ombudsperson can just wipe that off my bill or take care of that for me, when I can’t do that. So immediately they’re disappointed.”
What is your favorite part about your position?
“I have hoped to be an ombudsperson since I first learned about it in 1996. I was a post-traditional undergraduate and I was looking for some part time work. When [I was] looking for the president's office I ran into the ombuds office and he helped me out.
I feel that in this position I am like a coach and can help people navigate during difficult plays. I used to be an ombudsperson for a mayor's office, and I knew pretty quickly I preferred working in higher education.”
Do you feel you experience a different perspective on campus through your position?
“Absolutely yes. We want everything to be good for everybody. How do we make it happen? The ombuds can’t just make it happen. There are several different ways one can characterize the role of an organizational ombud; whimsically, as the wise fool — tilting at windmills, or pragmatically, as a strategic thinker or options-generator. More simply, as a guide, coach, or listening ear.
I often feel like it is a rare luxury to be able to process anything simply and at face value. I’m always looking for what gaps may present between intent and effect. When I am helping someone out I often have to think about how I am strategizing and help them as much as possible. How can I push them a little to open up to other possibilities?”
Do you see a difference between students concerns on campus compared to faculty or staff members?
“People assume it's so different from what faculty, staff, students, or parents may come to me with. Yes, the specifics and details that attach to these visitors are different. However, when you pull back from that and you categorize the concern they all have a similar pattern. I have 10 categories where everything brought to me gets placed. When looking through each category it’s clear to see the vague similarities between what students or a staff member on this campus may come to me with.
In the annual report from last year, the largest category for concern was services and administrative issues. Following that, the next largest was evaluative relationships.”
Is there a common trend that is brought to your attention? Are there complaints you are surprised there’s not more of?
“I just started my position last November, so I missed out on the first few months of the semester. I am looking forward to completing my full academic year report to really see the trends of what is brought to my attention.
When I started this role I thought I would have more interpersonal disputes between students. I think since starting later into the semester I missed the transition time with students dealing with roommate conflicts. Conflicts can occur right away but roommates may give each other more grace and space in the beginning as they try to get used to one another, but repeated, various, and ongoing conflicts can become intolerable or heated after a couple of weeks. I am curious to see what arises this fall.”
Is there anything on campus that has improved recently due to someone bringing up a concern/complaint to you?
“Real change anywhere including on this campus takes a collaborative team effort and time. However, even a subtle change can be a big improvement on this campus. I will say that speaking to proactive groups and getting them involved can definitely help enact change throughout CMU. So although there may not have been any huge improvements, many small ones have popped up around campus.”
To get in contact with Dodge, email her at Ombuds@cmich.edu or call (989) 774-3010.
Her office is located in Warriner Hall 214.