More than 600 visited University of Iowa ombudsperson with problem or concern last year

'They are more aware of us out in the community'

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IOWA CITY — Of the more than 600 people who visited the University of Iowa’s Office of the Ombudsperson in the last academic year, more than a quarter identified themselves as racial or ethnic minorities.

The office, which serves as a resource for any member of the faculty, staff or student body with a concern, has held steady at about 600 total visits a year since the 2012-13 academic year.

Ten years ago, the office saw just 256 visitors, according to the its annual report, which the UI Faculty Senate is scheduled to discuss Tuesday.

The university hasn’t pinpointed a cause for the spike, said Susan Johnson, a professor with the UI Carver College of Medicine and faculty ombudswoman.

The increase simply could be from marketing and awareness, she said.

Like the office’s total visits, the percentage of visitors identifying as racial and ethnic minorities has crept up over the years — climbing from 18 percent in the 2008-09 term to 21 in 2011-12 to 22 in 2014-2015 and then 26 percent last year.

“This is significantly higher than the 15 percent of UI students, staff and faculty who identify as racial or ethnic minorities,” according to the new report.

About 67 percent of the visitors last year were women, who account for about 56 percent of the UI community.

Among all who visited the office, the most frequently-cited area of concern — at 44 percent — was “evaluative relationship.” That primarily refers to problems between supervisors and employees, administrators and faculty members, advisers and graduate students and teaching assistants and undergraduates.

“Any relationship that involves a power difference can be stressful and can lead to conflicts,” according to the report.

The report notes a variety of campus-specific stresses potentially contributed to the office’s activity last year.

“UI is dealing with a striking number of challenges, including a disputed presidential search, retirements of key administrators, the implementation of (the Board of Regent’s transparency study,) tension with the Board of Regents, ongoing economic challenges, a stunning number of major building projects, national tension about race and politics, and more,” according to the report.

Last fall, the UI Faculty Senate and UI Student Government issued votes of no confidence in the regents for hiring new UI President Bruce Harreld, a former IBM executive.

During the school year, the campus acclimated itself to 184 early retirements encouraged by a regents-backed efficiency initiative.

And in line with national movements, the campus in the spring buzzed over the topics of inclusion and diversity when a student claimed to have been attacked in a hate crime — a report he later recanted.

Cynthia Joyce, a staff UI ombudswoman, said her office last year saw some complaints related to those issues — although part of the ratcheting up in racial visits could be tied to a growing minority population across campus, she said.

Johnson said the total visit numbers are small relative to the nearly 50,000 faculty, staff and students, making trends difficult to track.

“I think last year started out a little rocky, maybe tumultuously, but it’s settled down quite a bit,” she said. “We are talking and actions have taken place to work on issues. I think we’re in a pretty good place where we are moving forward on issues that are important.”

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