Gary Newsome

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Making an informal complaint will no longer be a struggle for faculty and staff at Winthrop University as the school has named its very first ombuds officer.

The school announced Feb. 28 that Jackie Concodora, director of Health and Counseling Services, has accepted the initial appointment as the part-time Winthrop ombuds.

“This person will be an independent, confidential and informal resource for any Winthrop faculty, staff or administrator who voluntarily seeks assistance in identifying available options, facilitating productive communication and bringing forth concerns about university policy or procedures,” said (now former) President Dan Mahony, in an email to faculty and staff.

Concodora, who will receive training to prepare for the role that will begin July 1, will also continue in her position with counseling services, according to the university.

In the new position, Concodora will be required to go through 40 hours of training through the International Ombudsman Association (IOA), which is the governing body of ombuds officers throughout the world.

Ginger Williams, one of the many people who helped to choose the ombuds officer, said Winthrop has seen some conflicts occur that could have been taken care of long ago if the school had an ombudsperson.

“The idea came out a faculty committee a few years ago and they thought that having an ombuds would be a very good thing for Winthrop,” said Williams.

The position will provide informal dispute resolution services to Winthrop University staff and administration.

The ombuds also allows staff access to a resource who can keep information classified and neutral while helping employees find options or solutions to problems.

The responsibilities of the ombuds officer will include (1) guiding staff to appropriate services or resources to obtain information, (2) listening impartially to concerns while giving staff a place to confidentially collaborate to come up with solutions, (3) training individuals and departments on how to communicate and have good workplace relationships, (4) identifying problematic trends in the workplace, (5) informing the campus community about conflicts through the use of presentations and (6) meeting with the Ombuds Advisory Board to serve Winthrop as best as possible.

“When you go to see an ombuds officer, there is no paper trail. They don’t keep the notes from the interaction. They don’t file any complaints. They can’t make any specific policy changes on campus,” said Williams.

Williams also said the an ombuds officer can propose to make policy changes on campus.

She said the faculty member in this position must be able to work effectively and communicate with different people at Winthrop, work with people who have different viewpoints, understand the culture of the university, including its structure, policies and practices.

“We were mainly looking for someone who brings a diverse background in conflict resolution,” said Williams.

The announcement of the new position appeared to be well received by faculty.

“I think the more outlets you can give people to express their opinion, the better,” said Mark Nortz, senior instructor of mass communication.

He added this could allow the administration to fix problems they aren’t currently aware of.

While the ombudsperson won’t deal directly with students, sophomore Savannah Scott said she thought the new position was also a good idea.

“It’s a great way to communicate effectively with the faculty and staff when problems arise instead of having something unresolved and causing someone to be fired. It makes them a better team player and professor,” said Scott.

Currently, the ombuds officer will only assist faculty and staff, however, Williams said student affairs could potentially hire their own ombuds, if the need for one ever arises.

* Editor’s note: This story, which has been updated, was originally filed before the Winthrop ombudsperson was named.