Ombudsman sees increase in complaints

By Kevin Lyons

As money decreases, complaints increase.

Budget difficulties and “racial divisiveness” brought a major workload increase for the NIU Office of the Ombudsman last year, NIU Ombudsman Tim Griffin said.

Griffin estimated that total clients handled by case or simply by telephone went up between 70 and 80 percent from last year.

About 1,100 clients contacted the ombudsman, half of which were dealt with by telephone. The office handled a total of 553 client cases, according to its annual report.

Griffin attributed a large number of cases to courses slashed in budget surgery.

“A lot of it’s due to the budget,” Griffin said. “People had trouble getting the classes they needed to graduate and came to see us.”

The annual report anonymously described a typical case of that nature, where a student, “Client A,” had been shut out of a class for three consecutive semesters, but constantly was denied answers from the department chair.

Client “A’s” phone calls were never returned, and appointments were cancelled.

The Office of the Ombudsman contacted the chair and convinced him to meet with the client the following day, the report said.

A total of 84 cases under the heading “Student Academic Status” were filed. That category included degree and graduation requirements, closed classes and class scheduling, among other items.

There were a total of 89 discriminatory or harassment reports last year. The majority of those cases were racial in nature, Griffin said.

“People hassling other people is a major, ongoing campus issue,” Griffin said.

He said reports of discrimination included complaints from members of most races on campus.

“A large number of indicators seem to point toward a decrease in mutual understanding and appreciation regarding those from different racial and ethnic heritage,” Griffin’s report stated.

One case described in the report involved a black male, “Client I,” who was verbally threatened with racial slurs on the job.

“Client I” was afraid to file a formal complaint with his supervisor because of the threats but did so after advice from the Office of the Ombudsman.

He had intended to leave the university before contacting the office.

Griffin said the breakdown of persons filing cases was typical.

According to the report, 353 undergraduate cases were handled. There were 82 graduate student cases and 14 others.

The report showed a total faculty and staff case figure of 81. That figure included all types of faculty, operating and supportive professional staff and others.

Griffin said the Office of the Ombudsman is “completely neutral and confidential.” He stressed that all persons involved will not be identified.

Griffin said it is not widely known that the office handles faculty and staff needs as well.

“We’re here for everyone,” Griffin said.