Keep ombudsman free

The controversy over the ombudsman’s term limits is an interesting debate, and it calls into question the original purpose of the job.

The ombudsman’s office handles NIU discrimination, harassment and other similar complaints. Not all such complaints are handled directly through the ombudsman, but the office is meant to serve the entire NIU community of faculty, staff and students.

The impetus for the ombudsman office was the idealism of the 1960s, although there’s much about the 1960s we’d be quite content to forget. The office first came into being around 1970.

The idea was to have a fresh person in the office who was unaffiliated with any area particular interested party be it students or the administration.

A five-year term limit was placed on the office so a fresh face could come in each successive period. There would be little time for any real political pressure from any particular group or groups.

A well-represented committee including at least one member from the administration, faculty, staff and student body evaluates the ombudsman’s performance.

Under the old five-year maximum term they would evaluate the office holder for the last two years, prior to the term ending. The new proposal would set the ombudsman up for scrutiny annually, but there would be no limit to the number of three-year terms.

The implications of future political pressure are obvious, despite anyone’s character. An ombudsman, like anyone else, would like to keep his job. He would probably have a good idea of what to do and what not to do if he’d like to keep it.

The worst part of this scenario is that the final say would go to the NIU president, even greater implications of pressure.

If we’re going to keep this office, which incidentally relatively few universities have, it’s got to be kept free of this kind of pressure.

If the ombudsman in the future becomes a pawn of the administration it would cease to be useful other than being a place for people to bounce their frustrations – the NIU complaint department.

The best solution is to dump the office or keep the term limited to five years.