Complaint center lacking in demand

Jennifer Nacin

Complaints filed against the University of Iowa rose by more than a third to 409 last year, while complaints at Iowa State were … uncounted.

According to a report released by University of Iowa’s Ombudsperson, the office of Maile-Gene Sagen, Iowa students’ and employees’ rate of complaints increased 35 percent from 2002-03 to 2003-04. At Iowa State, there were no comparable numbers for the year because there is no central office to investigate or track complaints.

The University’s Office of the Ombudsperson has been a central complaint and dispute resolution center since 1985. Its primary job is to investigate complaints and mediate between conflicting parties, Sagen said.

At Iowa State, complaints are handled within the Dean of Students office or within the office or department that the student, faculty or staff member has a problem or concern, said Pete Englin, dean of students.

He said the amount of student complaints at Iowa State has remained relatively the same over the years, resulting in successful complaint resolutions.

“We want students to believe and feel they are well served,” Englin said. “We try to place helpful people as close to students as possible, right where they live, learn and work.”

Jack Girton, associate professor of zoology and genetics and Faculty Senate president for the 2003-04 school year, said students, faculty and staff might feel more willing to come forward and voice complaints or concerns if an office tailored to those issues existed.

“If we had an ombudsman office, it would probably hear more complaints from people who might not otherwise come forward,” Girton said.

Girton said the way Iowa State currently handles complaints is working well, but it would be beneficial to have an ombudsperson office as a way to track the amount and nature of complaints, as the University of Iowa has done.

“If you see [the same problem] showing up in other departments, it’s something we should deal with,” Girton said.

John McCarroll, executive director of university relations, said Iowa State has taken a different but successful approach to resolving grievances.

“Complaints and grievances are taken seriously,” McCarroll said. “We encourage people who have a complaint to go to their immediate supervisor.”

Susan Carlson, associate provost, said there are many ways to resolve a grievance on campus.

“There are many complaints and appeal processes on campus that ensure people have a way of voicing their concerns,” she said.

McCarroll said he has not noticed a demand for a central complaint monitoring center on campus and thinks it is unlikely that one would be established.

“I’m not aware of any overwhelming call for this position,” McCarroll said. “[The university has] been eliminating positions, so it’s unlikely that we’d add a position.”

Both McCarroll and Girton said students, faculty and staff should go to their department chair, dean or faculty senate representative to voice complaints or concerns.

One downside to establishing an ombudsperson office on campus is that it could result in a longer wait for complaint resolution, Girton said.

“If you have a central complaint office, there are more steps in getting a problem solved,” Girton said.

He said the complaint resolution process Iowa State currently practices allows for faster complaint resolution.