On the day Lied Library opened in 2001, David Schwartz came to UNLV from the land of Springsteen and rolling chairs, Atlantic City. Until 2018, Schwartz served as the director of the Center for Gaming Research as part of University Libraries.
His status as a gaming historian is unparalleled as the author or editor of 11 books such as Roll the Bones, a comprehensive look back at gambling history from the dawn of time to the present; Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas, the story of Caesars founder Jay Sarno; and his most recent, At the Sands: The Casino That Shaped Classic Las Vegas, Brought the Rat Pack Together, and Went Out with a Bang.
Now, Schwartz serves as the university ombuds, an office that seeks to resolve conflicts wherever they crop up among university employees. Ombuds Week kicks off today with an open house from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Flora Dungan Humanities building room 165.
Other Ombuds Week activities include a discussion of the Netflix series The Chair from 4-5 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Faculty Center, Beam Hall room 235 (or via Zoom); a conflict styles roleplay where people can participate in conflict scenarios over two sessions also in the Faculty Center; and a board game break from noon-2 p.m. Oct. 15. with Tina Vo.
What made you want to become the university ombuds?
Having been here for more than 20 years, I wanted to find a way to give back to the people who make this university work. When President [Keith] Whitfield announced he was reviving the office in his 2021 State of the University speech, I knew immediately that I had to apply. It’s an honor to be able to serve the university in this way.
What is the role of an ombuds?
First and foremost, I’m here to listen. When people find themselves in overwhelming situations, their frustration is often compounded by the sense that no one cares what’s happening to them. For those who have dedicated their professional lives to our university, that can be devastating. I want to give those who feel stuck like that a place where they can talk about what’s preventing them from doing their best work.
I can also help people understand what their options are, and consider what the best way forward might be.
Next, I can provide one-on-one coaching on how to transform destructive conflicts into productive ones, and how to have difficult conversations. I also do group training and coaching, focusing on communication, leadership, conflict, and workplace expectations.
The ombuds office also has a mediation practice. When people can’t agree on how to move forward, we provide a structured but informal channel for them to have a guided discussion about how they can resolve their issues. Since we use a facilitative mediation model, the mediators are there essentially to keep the conversation on track. The parties themselves come up with the resolution, which means that they both have a stake in making it work.
What do faculty and staff need to know before bringing an issue to the ombuds office?
First and foremost, that the office will maintain confidentiality. This means that, unless someone signals a risk of serious harm, I won’t share what they say. It also means that if someone wants to file notice with UNLV, they wouldn’t do it through the ombuds office (since we don’t share anything they tell us). Second, while I’m not going to be able to “fix” your problem for you, I can point you toward resources that you can use to fix the problem, and help you talk through your options.
The ombuds is here to advocate for fair processes and equitable procedures and to help every member of our community advocate on their own behalf.
Conflict resolution can involve some emotionally charged scenarios. What's your best tip for de-escalating?
I think there are three aspects of that. The first is to acknowledge your emotions. Admit to yourself how you are feeling and try to consider why you are feeling that way.
Before you speak, think carefully: “If someone else said what I am about to say to me, how would I respond?” If you think what you say might make you angrier, chances are it will make the other person angrier as well.
The third is to think of what outcome you ultimately want, and what the best way for you to get there might be. Even though it might feel good in the moment to say something that cuts the other person down, is that really going to help you reach the best outcome for either of you?
After navigating highly charged environments, how do you, personally, bring it down at the end of the day?
I try to stay in shape, doing a little running, weight training, and yoga most days. I also train in Brazilian jiujitsu, a martial art that I think has some relevance to conflict resolution, as least as I imagine it. Jiujitsu is known as “the gentle art,” since, as in judo, the chief concept isn’t to meet force with force but to instead use balance and technique to achieve your goal.
The same can be true in how we negotiate or manage conflict: instead of trying to intimidate or shout down the other person (force versus force), why not try to understand them better to learn how you find common ground (technique)?
Present aside, what era of Las Vegas history would you most have liked to live through?
I think the 1950s and 1960s would be most interesting because you could see a city finding its purpose and opening itself up to new horizons. On one level, obviously, that’s about the growth of the gaming and hospitality industry, but the process of that industry becoming more inclusive is, to me, just as important.