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Complaints regarding disrespect decrease at UI

BY LAUREN COFFEY | OCTOBER 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Complaints among students, staff, and faculty regarding disrespect have slowly increased over the last five years, and the University of Iowa Office of the Ombudsperson decided to take action against the issue by educating staff and students about the issue of disrespect.

This year, the complaints have gone from 123 to 108 grievances regarding respect.

“I wish we could take credit,” UI Ombudsperson Cynthia Joyce said. “I don’t know what contributed [to the decrease of complaints]. We tried a number of initiatives on campus … we’re a big campus; I don’t think it would be fair for us to take credit.”

The Ombudsperson Office had such initiatives as conflict-management sites, creating a visual continuum for disrespect, and offering workshops where what constitutes disrespect was discussed.

Although the office may not want to take credit for the decrease in the number of complaints, other university officials believe it is to be applauded for its efforts.

“I think one of the reasons behind [the decrease in the number of complaints] is the Ombudsperson Office,” UI spokesman Tom Moore said. “I think we have to give some credit to the office for their efforts.”

One official does not necessarily think it is the initiatives of the Ombudsperson Office but rather students having a lack of knowledge about what to do if they have a complaint.

“I imagine the undergraduates aren’t even aware of the Ombudsperson Office,” said Steve Choe, an assistant professor of cinema and comparative literature. “It’s the only mechanism where a person can safely question someone above them.”

The Ombudsperson Office has documented the number of complaints it has received in a variety of issues for the past six years. In the 2006-07 academic year, the office received 23 complaints regarding disrespect, 8 percent of its total complaints. The numbers rose through four years, coming to a peak of 123 complaints, or 25 percent of the total complaints, in the 2010-11 school year. The number has now decreased to 22 percent of total complaints.

The complaints do not represent the entire population at the UI, just the people who come in to complain. This year, the ombudsperson has seen 503 visitors.

Currently, the Ombudsperson Office allows students, staff, and faculty to issue complaints anonymously regarding a variety of issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination, violation of policies, and unethical behavior.

The complaints regarding disrespect tend to be either students complaining about teachers or teachers having issues with their supervisors.

Although respect is an issue at the Ombudsperson Office, the biggest issue office officials see involve frustration with supervisors, with only some of those issues regarding disrespect.

Officials say they do not see an issue overall with disrespect on the UI campus.

“I don’t think it’s an endemic problem,” Choe said.


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