Nov. 17, 2023


In my last post, I wrote about “Why I Am Not the Ombudsman.” If you are a fan of Star Trek in general and Leonard Nimoy in particular, you will appreciate that my next post just had to be, “Why I Am the Ombudsman.”

But wait, you might think, you made such a big deal two weeks ago about how, in the name of inclusivity, you are most decidedly not the ombudsman. Are you trying to have your cake and eat it too?

To some extent, I do seem to be squeamishly equivocal here—after all, how can I simultaneously be and not be the ombudsman? Am I some kind of Schrodinger’s ombuds, occupying two states at the same time?

The answer, for me, comes down to something that is just as important as inclusivity: accessibility. I have worked to make the Ombuds Office as accessible to as many people in the UNLV community as possible. Whether that means regularly spending time at the Shadow Lane campus and its environs, coming in early or staying late to offer programming to those who work outside the standard 8-5 shift, or tabling at student events, presenting an office that is accessible to everyone on campus(es) has always been a priority.

So, if someone wants to call me the ombudsman, I can be the ombudsman.

I’m also a big fan of not being judgmental when someone comes to the office. Perhaps, to paraphrase Mario Puzo in The Godfather, it’s that I know from bitter experience how what courage it takes to reach out for help. Generally, when people come see me, they are going through something incredibly difficult; they may be at their wit’s end. I can imagine few things more off-putting than summoning up the nerve to approach someone else, only to be corrected about semantics.

So, if someone wants to call me the ombudsman, I can be the ombudsman.

I recently made a comment to my class that struck a nerve. They have a research paper to do, and, as is often the case, there’s a measure of collective and personal anxiety about the process. To combat that, I’ve designed scaffolding assignments and plenty of opportunities for students to get feedback. But I sensed there was still an undercurrent of apprehension that, when all was said and done, their work wouldn’t, in my eyes, be good enough. To reassure them, I said the first thing that came to mind, which was, “I’m going to grade the paper you wrote, not the paper that I would have written.”

Maybe I’m just bitter after having been stung by Reviewer #2 once too often, but I’ve always strived to do exactly what I promised my students I would do: consider the assignment and students before me, not some Platonic ideal or pipedream. And I feel the same way about people who visit the Ombuds Office. I am there to serve the people who walk through the door, with whatever grievances or concerns they have—not my own preconceptions of who should be using the office and what I think they should want to work on. And that means that, for several of them, I am not the ombuds, I am the ombudsman. In the interest of serving all, I am willing to accept it.

To drive the point home, if someone wants to call me the ombudsman, I can be the ombudsman.

There’s a deeper theoretical layer to this that I can share as well. Namely (sorry for the pun), me being the ombudsman when the visitor says so is an example of the visitor, not the ombuds, being the one who drives the narrative.  The ombuds is there to listen, not dictate. If being flexible about how someone wants to refer to the office makes it easier to talk, by all means, I can be the ombudsman.

Inclusivity and accessibility are excellent values for any ombuds office to uphold, but here at UNLV they have a special salience, because they are both part of our stated campus values. In particular, our “access” value emphasizes “open access and equal opportunity in policy and practice,” and that “we break down barriers so all may participate and have their voices heard.” When it comes to inclusion, that’s all about “actively supporting and advancing” visitors to the office and helping people with different perspectives “more effectively solve problems and make better decisions.” Finally, seeing visitors who represent the diversity of backgrounds and experiences at UNLV, it is paramount to “demonstrate empathy and celebrate our differences.”

So not only is simultaneously being the ombuds and the ombudsman a way to promote an office that more people feel comfortable using, it is also one way that I can advance UNLV’s chosen campus values.

But the most important thing isn’t how we talk about the office in theory; it’s how the office supports those who choose to use it. Which is why, in practice, it’s never a deal breaker if someone wants to call me the ombudsman. I’m just glad you are here, and am eager to help you explore options.

At the end of the day, no matter what people want to call the office, we are here for you. The Ombuds Office has many resources available to help you through any conflict or communication issue you might be facing. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, it is an excellent zero-barrier first stop. 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