Wales named

Now there’s someone new to complain to if you think that you were done wrong on campus. Walter D. Wales, Ph.D., professor of physics, was appointed ombudsman of the University by President Judith Rodin in August.

Walter D. Wales

Wales, one-time staff physicist for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, served as interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 1996-1998, and as deputy provost from 1992-1995.

Wales’ challenge as ombudsman will be to help individuals solve problems Ñ usually interpersonal problems in the workplace Ñ that they may not have been able to resolve through normal channels. All members of the university, except unionized workers and Health System employees, may seek redress through the ombudsman’s office.

Outgoing Ombudsman Vicki Mahaffey, a professor of English, stressed that initial complaints are heard in complete confidence.

“The ombudsman’s office is often asked to intervene in situations in which communications have become too emotional to be productive,Ó Mahaffey said. “It’s not an advocacy office. It’s a neutral investigative office.

“They’ll get our judgment of what was going on and it will be independent and it will be neutral,Ó she said. And that is the most important thing about our office, because very seldom is the blame just on one side.Ó

The kinds of cases the ombudsman sees usually involve some kind of abuse of power or confusion of personal and professional issues, she said. The cases involving faculty and students generally go to the ombudsman, whose experience as a member of the faculty provides a better understanding of academic situations. Other cases go to full-time Associate Ombudsman Gulbun O’Connor.

Mahaffey said an example of the sort of cases that came to her office might be a lab worker whose supervisor or coworker has been expressing strong anger and recently threw a vial of chemicals in the lab worker’s direction.

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Originally published on September 2, 1999