Ombudsperson says she is concerned for office’s confidentiality

By Ahyen Labanan

DeKALB — Sarah Klaper, NIU’s University Ombudsperson, announced that she is now a Clery Reporter at the Operating Staff Council meeting Thursday “after much protest and fighting about it for seven years.”

Klaper said she is concerned the change will compromise the office’s confidentiality.

“People come to my office because they trust my office and they trust I’m not [going to] tell anybody they were there,” Klaper said. “Other than going to counseling or [Employee Assistance Program], where else could you go on campus where the person’s not gonna reveal that you showed up at their office?”

The Office of the Ombudsperson is a resource for the NIU community that aims to listen to people’s university-related issues or conflicts and guides people by explaining university policies and procedures. The office is located on the sixth floor of the Holmes Student Center. It is open 8 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4:30 p.m. and by appointment, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson website.

“Our job is to help people navigate problems and issues that they’re having that are related to NIU or that are outside NIU but then are affecting their lives at NIU,” Klaper said. “We help them come up with strategies for moving forward and how to work with the situation.”

The office is a confidential and neutral resource, Klaper said.

“First, a Clery Reporter is technically called a campus security authority, and in the Clery Act, there’s a very specific definition of who is a campus security authority. That’s somebody who is responsible for students and student activities across campus,” Klaper said. “ I am not responsible for anybody on this campus except for my own office. I have no decision making authority for anyone else on campus. That is it. I do not fall in the definition, even a little bit.”

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities that have federal financial aid programs to create a report detailing campus crime, according to the Federal Student Aid website.

NIU’s Clery Report was released Oct. 1.

“I have to report the nature of crimes that get told to me and only a particular list of crimes, but I don’t identify the people who have come to see me and talk to me about that situation,” Klaper said. “So, still confidential, I just have to disclose certain things to our Clery officer.”

Other business

Klaper reported that complex cases, or cases requiring an appointment with the Office of the Ombudsperson, have increased significantly. Simple referral cases, or situations that are directional and can be answered by a phone call, have decreased, she said.

Students continue to be the majority of visitors to the office, Klaper said. The number of graduate students who visit the office has also increased, she said.

Students were primarily concerned about grade appeals, interactions with faculty, unprofessionalism and student code of conduct issues, she said.

“Operating staff, [supportive professional staff] and faculty have all gone up significantly, SPS in particular,” Klaper said. “I think a lot of that was due to people’s classifications changing and having questions about that.”

Klaper said supportive professional staff have expressed concerns about changes in their job classification and description as they shift to civil service.

Other concerns for faculty and staff included unprofessionalism and instability, Klaper said. More than 100 people visited the office for these concerns in the 2018–2019 academic year.

Sabrina Self, SA deputy speaker, discussed the SA’s No Plastic November initiative. Self discussed a resolution encouraging faculty to include the four mental health facilities on campus in their syllabi.