Jane Cauvel: CC’s New Ombuds

Jane Cauvel with her dogs, Willow, age 2 on the left, and Luke, 4, on the right

The ombuds office is located on the second floor of Tutt Library, Room 212. Cauvel is experimenting with hours in order to be available when convenient for the most number of people. During August and September, her office hours are 11 a.m.  to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, and by appointment. She also is willing to meet people off campus. Cauvel can be reached at 648-7470 and at ombuds@coloradocollege.edu

The following is a full-length version of the interview that was featured in the August Bulletin.

The ombudsman office provides an informal, confidential, independent, neutral, off-the-record alternate channel of communication for faculty and staff to resolve workplace and learning environment issues.  It works to ensure that all members of the community are treated equitably and fairly.  The ombudsperson is neutral and does not advocate for a visitor or the institution, but rather for fair treatment for all members of the community. A visitor can discuss issues or concerns confidentially without further disclosure or formal action.  To the extent possible, the ombudsperson attempts to identify and discuss with the appropriate officers of the college changes that may prevent workplace issues from becoming significant or recurring.  Q.  Why do you think CC needs an ombudsman?
Cauvel: The CC Board of Trustees has asked the college to develop an ombuds office. It approved our plans for an ombuds office and for me to function as ombudsperson for the coming year.  Hence, I report directly to the audit committee of the Board of Trustees on positive or negative trends as I see them. The ombuds office will be a pilot venture for one year.
Before considering the position, I asked if there were major problems which led to the desire for such an office. I was told there were none, but it seems there is a need for more open lines of communication and more understanding of processes among individuals and departments.  The office aims to alleviate conflict before it escalates.

Q.  What did you see as the pros and cons when you considered taking this position?
Cauvel:  The cons were that I have been retired from the college for about 10 years and have been enjoying a very good life.  I enjoyed teaching the students, serving on committees, and working as faculty assistant to President Kathryn Mohrman. Eventually, I decided it was time for me to retire and pursue other interests.
The pros were that I had been away long enough so I didn’t know all the inner-workings of the college and wouldn’t come with a lot of baggage. While talking with staff and faculty about the role of the ombudsperson, I discovered how much I enjoyed the community and the stimulation of being on campus again. After a short time I became aware of some of the conflicts that I thought could be alleviated.

Q.  Is that why you accepted the position?
Cauvel:  Yes. I also think it is for my own benefit. It will be a challenge to take on new tasks and work part-time in an intellectually active environment – and if I can assist in the alleviation of some conflicts, all the better. I am a temporary employee, working 20 hours a week. Since we are not adding positions, this is a trial to see if it is beneficial. It will be up to the staff, faculty, and Board of Trustees to see if this role will be continued. My purpose is to get the office started and to explore the methods and activities that work best for CC. I’ll study the examples of other colleges with ombudsmen offices and strictly follow the code of ethics and standards of practice of the International Ombudsman Association.

Q.  What have you been doing since you left the college?
Cauvel:  I finished a book with Zehou Li, a Chinese professor, entitled “Four Essays on Aesthetics: Toward a Global View.” (Published by Roman and Littlefield; 2006.) I’ve been on the board of the Grand Circle Field School, an environmental program in northern Arizona, and am on the Internal Review Board of the Memorial Health System. I’ve written some articles, been to China a couple of times, and did reading that I didn’t have time to do before. It’s been a very lively intellectual time. 

Q.  What skills/knowledge do you have that would make you good in this position?
Cauvel: I just completed a workshop with the International Ombudsman Association at Pepperdine University. We discussed the meanings and implications of the four basic criteria for an ombuds office: confidentiality, informality, independence, and neutrality. We examined case studies which challenged us to consider options for alleviating conflicts while maintaining the basic criteria.  Along with the other three pillars, we emphasized that neutrality meant we neither advocate for the visitor nor for the college but rather for fairness. The ombudsperson does not give answers but rather assists the visitor in seeking options. The visitor makes the decisions, the ombudsperson does not.
I don’t know that I will be good in the position but basically I like people; and I always enjoy talking with members of the Colorado College community; and I am committed to fair treatment for all persons. I have had lots of positive interaction with staff and faculty. The Faculty Executive Committee suggested me for the role, which was very flattering, and I’ll do my best to maintain their trust and that of others.

Q.  People have been calling this position ombudsman, ombudsperson, ombudswoman. What would you call it?
Cauvel: I like to call it the ombuds office.  Over time, the person in the office will change but the basic values and purposes of the office will remain. The ombuds office will be on the second floor of Tutt Library, Room 212.  The office will be open August 1 and in addition, I will have a secure telephone so people can call me. If someone is uncomfortable meeting on campus, we’ll meet off campus. I am guessing I will spend about a third of my time in the office, a third on the phone and a third walking around campus. I hope to meet with every staff division and faculty department. Unrealistic?  Maybe, but I look forward to many productive conversations.

Q.  So this office is for faculty and staff only?
Cauvel: Yes. Of course I have access to all administrators. As I perceive patterns or trends, both positive and negative, I will suggest them to the appropriate official. However maintaining confidentiality is critical and I must be very careful that visitors to my office are not identified. In a small organization this can be difficult, and I will just have to use my best judgment.

Q.  Do you wish there had been an ombuds office when you were working here? Or do you think there might not have been a need?
Cauvel: The ombudsman practice came to the U.S. from Sweden during the 1960s. Now it is common practice within major corporations, government agencies, universities and colleges, in the U.S. and abroad. Organizations, even small colleges, have become larger, and have developed more complex structures and more diverse populations. Most of these changes are positive but as expectations change, so must ways of navigating them. When I began teaching here, I would have welcomed an ombudsperson with whom to discuss perceived discrimination concerning women faculty and staff, and other minority groups. Relationships were more casual because the population was more homogeneous. I think the role of an ombudsperson will expand as institutions grow in complexity and diversity.  Many of my conversations will have to do with telling people where they can get information; where I can get information for them; and with them, seek options for resolving their concerns. I do not solve problems but help visitors find ways to make their work life and their relationships more satisfying.  

Q.  Do you think the creation of the ombudsman office will improve moral at CC?
Cauvel: That’s a big question. It’s a pilot program for one year. We will all have to work to see if it is beneficial.

Q.  Will there be a reassessment?
Cauvel: Yes, we’ll be reassessing throughout the year and more comprehensively at the end of the year.

Q.  Who will be doing the reassessing?
Cauvel: There will be a survey of some sort, certainly of the people who use the office, and of its perception by non-users, and the board of trustees. Because it’s a pilot program, we must all be involved in determining usefulness. I imagine the activities of the office will evolve and change as needs arise.

Q.  What do you think most of the questions or problems people will come to you will be in regard to?
Cauvel: I think questions appropriate to the office will be along the lines of:

  • How did this rule or regulation come into being, and how is it being applied?
  • I have been concerned about a particular problem in my department. What is the appropriate office or service to take this problem? Can you help me clarify the issues and consider options?
  • Chain of command questions.
  • What can I do about a conflict with my supervisor (or peer)? What are my options?
  • Can we discuss my problem confidentially, outside the usual channels?

However, there are things I cannot do:

  • Make decisions or mandate changes to policies and procedures.
  • Make decisions for individuals.
  • “Take sides” in a dispute.
  • Conduct formal investigations
  • Discuss visitors concerns with anyone without the visitor’s permission.

Q.  I understand you were invited many years ago for an interview to work in U.N. Why was that important to you?Cauvel: I admire Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in establishing the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights, and her other efforts at conflict management. I’ve been impressed with the successes of conflict management at the local, national and international levels. Since it aims to resolve issues in the earliest stages and to prevent harmful escalation, we often don’t hear of the successes.  I enthusiastically look forward to the challenges of the Colorado College ombuds office.

Q.  What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cauvel: I enjoy skiing, hiking, and  fly fishing.

1 Comment

  1. The position of the ombudsman is very crucial in addressing human relations issues for campuses and more intensively, the interactions and relationships of those that make up a campus. Almost like an arbitrary HOUR division that tackles issues or problems, concerns before a plan of action is imposed to correct a gross infraction or a pressing issue.

    It would appear that the right person was selected by Colorado College.

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