Oct. 10, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 3

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    When all else fails, Ombudsperson's Office can help

    Jim Marquardt, Student Ombudsperson for 1996-97, had a busy summer.

    "Our office handled more than 40 cases during summer quarter, everything from mundane questions about transcripts to more complex issues related to the privileges of faculty and the rights of students," said Marquardt, who is completing his Ph.D. in Political Science.

    But an increased caseload during a normally slow period doesn't suggest anything negative to Marquardt -- in fact, he sees it as a clear indication that students realize the Ombudsperson's Office can be effective for them.

    "The cases weren't that different from those we handle during the regular academic year," he said. "But because of the popularity of Reynolds Club -- which means that a lot more students know where our offices are -- we have a much more visible presence in the campus community."

    The Ombudsperson's charge is to facilitate resolution of conflicts that have not been resolved through normal channels, providing advice to students on where to turn when all other options have been exhausted. Students can discuss with the Ombudsperson issues ranging from grade appeals to problems in residence halls to questions about financial aid. The Ombudsperson may then refer the students to the appropriate department, or work with students, faculty members and administrators to find acceptable solutions.

    "My philosophy is that we are not just mediators or advocates," said Marquardt. "We have a very pragmatic approach -- our goal is to help improve the quality of life for the University community as a whole. Each case we review is different, and we exhaust every possibility and resource in assisting students. But what we do when assisting someone with a health-policy problem is different from what we do when helping someone change a course or start a business on campus."

    Marquardt is aided in his work by Assistant Ombudsperson Claudia Flores, a fourth-year College student. "My job includes representing the needs of the student, as well as anticipating potential problems and solving them in a way that helps make permanent changes in the lives of University students," Flores said.

    The Student Ombudsperson is appointed by the President after receiving the recommendation of a student-faculty committee that interviews candidates. As part of his duties, Marquardt meets weekly with Jonathan Kleinbard, Vice President for University News & Community Affairs, and Edward Turkington, Dean of Student Services. The Student Ombudsperson also has access to other University officers, including the Provost and the President.

    "Overall, I want students to feel we are a service-oriented office that serves their needs in a way that is not just pure legal jargon or paperwork," said Marquardt.

    The Student Ombudsperson's Office, located in Reynolds Club 008, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students with questions or complaints can visit the Ombudsperson's Office, call 702-8422 or fax the office at 702-8423. All office and phone conversations are confidential, as are fax transmissions. E-mail can be sent to Marquardt at ombudsperson @uchicago.edu, but e-mail messages cannot be maintained as completely confidential.