Despite several unsuccessful attempts in the past, the Graduate Student Assembly is again looking to establish a University-wide ombuds office — now with the help of several Faculty of Arts and Science senators.
A University-wide ombuds office is a confidential, unbiased public advocate department tasked with investigating and mediating issues between the University and its employees and students. In an interview with the News, GSA chair Lucylle Armentano GRD ’21 said she anticipates renewing calls for the creation of such an office sometime soon. The recent Campus Climate Survey from the Association of American Universities — which showed that almost half of Yale student respondents reported some sort of sexual harassment — underscored the need for an ombuds office, Armentano said. She added that while its creation is not the GSA’s highest priority, it’s “not something we’ve given up on.” Yale is the only university in the Ivy League without a University-wide Ombuds office.
In an interview with the News, GSA member Ryan Petersburg GRD ‘21 said establishing an ombuds office is especially important because the group’s obligation to keep all notes and conversations confidential would allow Yale faculty members or students to safely report complaints. Petersburg added that such an office would be especially useful for a graduate student who has problems with an advisor.
“Say your Director of Graduate Studies is good friends with your advisor,” he said. “It might be a strange, uncomfortable situation” to report them.
In April, the FAS Senate recommended to University President Peter Salovey and then-Provost Benjamin Polak the creation of an Ombuds office for Yale affiliates — except for those at the Yale School of Medicine, which has its own ombudsperson. The two-paged report detailed the ways in which such an independent office would improve the University climate and culture.
In an email statement to the News, University Spokeswoman Karen Peart said many concerns are best addressed at the “local level” — usually within Yale College and the graduate and professional schools. The University has worked hard to respond to calls from faculty, students and staff to simplify and streamline our processes rather than adding offices, Peart said.
“Yale places a priority on making sure we have the best mechanisms in place to create a strong sense of community and to hear and respond to any concerns raised by members of our community,” she wrote.
In 2010, Yale set up a 24/7, confidential hotline for employees to call with any issues. In 2017, Yale rolled out dean’s designees — administrators specifically charged with handling student concerns.
Still, Petersburg said creating an ombuds office is important because dean’s designees might not have the same perception on campus as an ombudsperson.
“Even though a lot of these people say they’re going to be confidential … and they seem pretty genuine, a lot of students might not have that perception,” he said.
Other members of the FAS Senate and GSA also said demanding the creation of an ombuds office is at the back of their minds and frequently pops up in meetings with administrators.
Chemistry professor and FAS senator Charles Schmuttenmaer, who was not involved with drafting the April recommendation, said Yale’s lack of an ombudsperson is baffling, especially because every other university he has attended has one.
Armentano said that she would like to see some kind of outline by the end of this year regarding an ombuds office.
“I’m certainly confident that we could reach out about a collaborative push for it,” she added. “I think this is important, and I’d love to collaborate with the FAS Senate.”
The FAS Senate was established in 2015.
Matt Kristoffersen | firstname.lastname@example.org