2023 UNLV Ombuds Office Annual Report
Jan. 22, 2024


 We’re well into January, which means that the Ombuds Annual Report for 2023 has been completed. I want to talk with you a little about the report itself, and a little about UNLV since December 6.

Because, in a way that I don’t know anyone was prepared for, the tragic murder of three faculty members and the wounding of a fourth in an act of senseless evil defines our campus, the past year, and all of us, overshadowing just about everything else. Speaking with people from outside the UNLV community, whether they are in town or more distant acquaintances, the shooting is the first and often last item of conversation.

So, as we look back at the year that was, December 6 dominates, which makes framing this year’s annual report a challenge. It seems wrong to march through the details of the year as if that terrible day didn’t happen, as if I am doing our lost colleagues a final disservice by blithely plugging along with our usual routine.

On the other hand, the UNLV community has a right to know what its Ombuds Office has been doing, and now more than ever is the right time to share the trends that shape the campus—including, but not limited to, the shooting. I am proud of the work that our office has done, and as you read more, I hope that you will be as well.

The first question is, who uses the office? Setting aside our group workshops and facilitations, let’s focus on individual consultations. In 2023, the answer is 486 unique individuals, of whom 24 percent were administrative faculty, 21 percent academic faculty, 19 percent students (undergraduate, graduate, and professional), 13 percent classified staff, 11 percent academic leadership (chairs, deans, etc), 8 percent administrative leadership (directors, vice presidents, and the like), 3 percent community members and parents, and 1 percent temporary clerical and Letter of Appointment employees. That’s a diverse selection of the 35,000 or so people who learn or work at UNLV.

As in previous years, the majority (71 percent) of those visiting the office for one-on-one consultations continued to be women, 26 percent of the visitors were men, and 3 percent identified as non-binary or other. Regarding race and ethnicity, 52 percent of visitors were White, 18 percent Black, 17 percent Asian, and 13 percent identified as multi-racial or another category. In addition, 34 percent of visitors were Hispanic.

Concerns brought to the office continued to be dominated by “evaluative relationships,” or interactions between supervisors and those whom they supervise. The majority of issues—55 percent—centered on supervisory relationships. Note that it isn’t always employees having problems with their supervisors—often, it is supervisors who are struggling with one or more of their direct reports. Peer and colleague relationships, at 18 percent, were another significant source of concern. Another 6 percent had problems with service and administrative issues—usually concerns about the quality of services offered or delays in receiving service. Also at 6 percent was strategic and mission-related concerns—note that these weren’t always reactive, as in someone having problems with strategic decisions, but were often proactive conversations about how to hone strategies that were compatible with the university’s (and unit’s) mission. Career progression and development concerns, including tenure, promotion, and reclassification, were 5 percent of the issues brought to the office during individual consultations.

Within these broad areas, communication remained a major, major sticking point, with nearly three-quarters of all visitors having some kind of communication issue with a supervisor or peer. Visitors were also concerned about how others treated them, often citing a perceived lack of respect (39 percent). Other trending concerns included performance appraisal (employee evaluations and student grades) and scheduling—the latter an understandable concern as UNLV continues to transition to more in-person instruction and service and work-from-home remains an issue.

My takeaway from a year’s work of data is that, in a nutshell, if we somehow learned to communicate with each other more clearly and respectfully, we would be significantly happier and more productive. Yes, there are resource constraints and policy issues that cause strife and division, but those are dwarfed by the tensions caused by simple human connection, or lack thereof. Here’s my obligatory mention that none of this is a peculiarly Rebel problem; my colleagues at educational, governmental, and business institutions around the world generally see the same thing. It doesn’t seem likely that humans, when they gather together in any significant number, can live without conflict. But we can be happier with each other—at least I hope we can, which is why I try to facilitate that happiness every day at the Ombuds Office.

It’s too early to talk about lessons from December 6, and I doubt that I’m situated in a place to dispense those lessons. But that day and its aftermath have made one thing clear to me: it’s terrible when bad things happen, but that misery compounds and becomes too much to endure when people feel that no one is listening to them. As we as a community come together again over the next few weeks and months, we can listen to each other, and maybe in that way make the pain more bearable. Mixed with a side of honest appreciation, listening goes a long way.

I could talk for a few thousand words more about what I read in the tea leaves of the Ombuds Office’s annual data, but I’ve got to save a few insights for the report itself, right? So let me say a few words about our group work, which comprises a significant amount of our efforts.

Over the last year, I led 24 workshops—an average of two per month. Some of them were through Human Resources programs like the Management Training Academy and HRPD, while others were conducted specifically for departments and other units. Some of the more popular topics included Conflict Styles, Clear Communication with Your Supervisor, and my favorite icebreaker (I love doing this one at New Faculty Orientation), Speed Conflict Resolution—the Wrong Way. These workshops can be a way to obliquely address conflict in your unit without being too in-your-face about it. If nothing else, they provide participants with some new skills and techniques that they can use in their work, family, and even romantic interactions.

And that’s about all I’m going to say about our annual report for now. I realize that this week, many are returning to campus for the first time since December 6. As a reminder, there are many counseling and mental health resources available to the UNLV community. Make use of them.

And, no matter what your current concern, you can visit me.  The Ombuds Office remains available to you for a wide spectrum of interpersonal, organizational, and communication issues, whether within groups or as an individual. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, our office is an excellent zero-barrier first stop. There really is no issue too big or too small. You have nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain.

If you would like to talk off-the-record and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is always open.

David G. Schwartz

UNLV Ombuds