June 13, 2011

Hamline University ombudsman Molly McAvoy explains the important job behind the strange title

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“This position really makes a difference for people,” said Hamline University ombudsman, Molly McAvoy. “People leave here feeling like they can address their issues, which is rewarding for me as well.”

McAvoy has provided ombuds services on a part-time basis since 1998 and full-time since 2005.

McAvoy explained that the role of an ombudsman is to offer options for problem solving and conflict resolution. At Hamline, that means helping faculty, staff, and students resolve their problems in a confidential, informal, neutral manner.

“I primarily deal with staff and faculty concerns,” McAvoy said. “A lot of the people who see me are employees and their superiors, who are having difficulties.”

McAvoy acts as neutral party and tries to get both sides to see different perspectives. McAvoy also occasionally works with students on issues ranging from roommate conflict to grade disputes. Frequently, these issues boil down to communication problems, which McAvoy can help to facilitate.

Importantly, McAvoy does not report to the Human Resources Department or any dean’s office, giving those who see her increased flexibility. McAvoy provides options to people without taking over, which for some people can be helpful. This independence also allows McAvoy to remain neutral during disputes.

“Ideally, an ombudsman reports to the highest person in the organization because it provides both real and perceived independence,” McAvoy said. “That is crucial to doing my job properly.”

While McAvoy reports to the Office of the President, she does not discuss the specifics of cases, but rather information on the types and number of cases she is working on. This allows McAvoy to keep what she does confidential.

McAvoy has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in conflict resolution. She also earned a certificate in dispute resolution from the Hamline University School of Law.

Click on the  Hamline Ombuds Services web page for more information on McAvoy and her office.