Tuesday, April 7, 2020

University ombudsperson helps students understand their rights

February 20, 2020
A decoration in the MSU Ombudsperson office in North Kedzie Hall highlights the responsibilities of a campus ombudsperson.
A decoration in the MSU Ombudsperson office in North Kedzie Hall highlights the responsibilities of a campus ombudsperson. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Michigan State students are guaranteed student rights outlined in the Spartan Life Student Handbook which protects them from possible mistreatment from faculty, staff and university officials.

“I’d say it’s essential for anyone to know their due process rights,” said Seth Betman, social relations and policy senior and student rights advocate. “Especially at Michigan State, because I feel a lot of people don’t know necessarily the height of the violations and what really it could bring upon.” 

Shannon Lynn Burton, the university ombudsperson is a designated neutral party whose job is to assist students in resolving conflicts or disputes within the University, as well as help the university community understand student rights, as well as university policies and procedures confidentially.

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Burton’s role is to inform students of their rights so they can decide if their rights have been infringed upon as outlined in the Code of Teaching Responsibility.

“That Code of Teaching Responsibility in the classroom space outlines the basic responsibilities for faculty,” Burton said. “So these are things like, students have a right to see their exams after they’ve completed an exam … students have a right to know how they’re going to be graded in a course, faculty have a responsibility to attend the classes.” 

After reviewing their rights, a student can take several steps to resolve the problem informally with the help of the ombudsperson.

“Our office provides a confidential, neutral, independent and informal space for students to explore what their options are,” Burton said. “So we’re a safe space for them to come without fear that their faculty member or someone else from the institution is going to know that they have these concerns.” 

Students should initially talk to the faculty member directly before coming to the university ombudsperson’s office, Burton said.

If the student and the ombudsperson decide a student’s rights might have been violated, students can file a formal grievance for a university judicial hearing.

Though Burton doesn’t file complaints or represent students during these hearings, students can consult with the Student Rights Advocates, who are trained to advise students during these processes. The student rights advocates also assist students who have been accused of a policy violation.

“In a normal conduct case, a student would come to us once they receive notice from the Dean of Students’ (Office),” Betman said. “If the hearing is already scheduled, we would assist the student, almost going over the alleged violation, ensuring we understand why they’re getting it. Pertaining to those violations, we would help create an opening statement and normally we would give a closing statement.” 

Betman said the proceedings usually take about a month to a month and a half from the initial filings, depending on the case.

Students are advised to reach out to either the university ombudsperson or the student rights advocates when in need of assistance when it comes to their rights, Betman said.

“I believe it’s essential for students to acknowledge their due process and also have the opportunity to have due process,” Betman said. “Especially in the university judicial system, until you’ve really gone through it, it’s pretty confusing. I like the role solely because you can come meet with an individual in our office who’s seen the process and can speak from first person experience.” 

MSU students can contact the university ombudsperson’s office by email at ombud@msu.edu, by phone at (517) 353-8830, in person in Room 129 in North Kedzie Hall or through an online form.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 1:40 p.m. to clarify the university ombudsperson does not mediate conflicts, in addition to adjusting hyperlinks, remove typos and adding Shannon Lynn Burton's middle name.

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