By Kendra Evensen
POCATELLO — Idaho State University administrators suspended the Faculty Ombuds Office this month, but have not yet released many details about their decision.
Barbara Adamcik, ISU’s associate provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, sent a letter to faculty members on Wednesday detailing the way grievances will be handled in the future, but she did not discuss the suspension of the ombuds office specifically, nor did she return the Idaho State Journal’s calls seeking additional information.
The leaders of the ISU Provisional Faculty Senate say suspending the ombuds office is a mistake considering the strife at ISU that has resulted in three faculty votes against the administration in the past year. Universities and colleges have ombuds offices to work out differences between faculty and administration.
In her letter, Adamcik refers to the implementation of the ISU Provisional Faculty Senate and discusses some of the changes that will take place while the senate completes the new faculty constitution and bylaws it was elected to create.
Adamcik wrote, “During this interim period while the Provisional Faculty Senate is completing its work, faculty grievances will be addressed first at the chair and dean levels, and if satisfactory resolution cannot be achieved, then I will appoint a senior faculty member from outside the person’s college to assist me in reviewing and addressing the grievance. How faculty grievances will be handled once the provisional senate completes its work should be identified in the new governance bylaws approved by the president and Board of Education.”
John Gribas, who has served as ISU’s ombudsman for the past six years, said he found out about the decision to suspend his position and office in an e-mail from the ISU provost office earlier this month. That email said the ombuds office would be suspended until the newly elected Provisional Faculty Senate writes a new constitution and bylaws. Gribas said he was surprised by the decision, especially since the ombuds office is not part of the Faculty Senate.
Gribas said the decision is especially confusing given the transitions and changes that are occurring at the university, including the dissolving of the Faculty Senate in February by ISU President Arthur Vailas and the State Board of Education, a move triggered by the faculty’s no confidence vote against Vailas.
Subsequently Vailas called for the election of a Provisional Faculty Senate. Voting for that group was completed by the faculty this week, with most of those winning seats being the same individuals who were members of the disbanded senate.
Gribas said, “Since the suspension of the Faculty Senate a few months ago, my contact hours as ombudsperson have dramatically increased as people seek a trusted, confidential colleague to help sort things out and gain perspective. For these reasons, I do think it is a mistake to suspend that service to faculty, especially given the delicate and unstable situation we face as a university community.”
Phil Cole, chairman of the disbanded senate and the new chairman of the provisional senate, and David Delehanty, vice chairman of the provisional senate, agree that suspending Gribas’ office is a mistake.
Cole said the ombuds office provides a neutral ground for addressing conflicts before they turn into larger problems.
“It saves everybody strife and provides a middle path,” Cole said. “It’s strange — I can’t possibly understand why (the administration) wouldn’t want to have one.”
Delehanty called the suspension of the ombuds office regrettable.
“It seems to further degrade the relationship between the faculty and
administration,” he said. “It leaves faculty without a voice.”
Mark Browning, chief communications and legislative affairs officer for the State Board of Education, would not offer any opinion regarding ISU’s decision to suspend its ombuds office.
He did say that all of the other state universities in Idaho have ombuds offices.
“I think the offices are an important part of the overall governance structure,” Browning said.
ISU administrators suspend university’s ombuds office
By Kendra Evensen