The Associated Students of Michigan State University hosted an informative presentation on the Office of University Ombudsperson related to student-related issues and passed several bills Thursday at the latest General Assembly meeting.
Ryan T. Smith, assistant university ombudsperson, joined the latest General Assembly meeting to discuss how the Office of University Ombudsperson serves as a resource to discuss and address academic and nonacademic student-related concerns guided by MSU’s standards of practice.
The standards of practice include four key elements: independence, confidentiality, informality and neutrality.
According to the website, independence means that the Office of the University Ombudsperson officially reports to the President but is independent of any University administrative structure.
Confidentiality is the practice of not disclosing any information concerning any visit without the visitor’s permission unless there are compelling reasons. However, on occasion, the Ombudspersons may, at the visitor’s request and, if appropriate, contact another party and seek additional information or clarification to understand the problem’s nature better.
Informality is that the University Ombudspersons listen, seeking to understand problems and provide information to help solve them. The University Ombudsperson does not participate in the formal grievance process.
Lastly, neutrality means that the Office of University Ombudsperson will seek fair and equitable processes to all parties. The Office provides an impartial and objective resource for the University community.
The Office of University Ombudsperson is separate from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
The Office of Institutional Equity deals with complaints and administers a formal process with much authority to investigate. The Office of University Ombudsperson can interact and guide students in the right direction for resources but are not mandated reporters to initiate any process.
“We’re [the Office] a really good starting place for any number of things,” Smith said. “If I can’t help you out through navigating something, I see it as my job to put you in contact with the person who is, or to point you in that right direction to somebody.”
Many of the Office’s concerns are about student relationships with instructors, students’ grades, syllabus questions and student rights questions in the classroom.
Smith said that there are many students that do not know they have certain rights in the classroom.
“There’s a document called "The Code of Teaching Responsibility" that I would love to have printed on a t-shirt and pass around to everyone on campus because I think it is such an important and fundamental student right, and it is really a great tool for students in the classroom space,” Smith said.
Other issues and concerns that the Office discusses are accusations of academic dishonesty, advising and program requirements, university administration, housing, financial aid and navigating bureaucracy, ensuring student voices are heard.
Additionally, ASMSU passed six bills by majority voice.
Bill 57-63 will advocate for more transparency and accountability from the Office of Institutional Equity. The bill was introduced by International Students Association Representative Nikunj Agarwal and seconded by Womxn’s Council Representative Madison Sewick. The bill will advocate for more transparency and accountability from the Office of Institutional Equity and other administrators and for the office to release all closed cases and an annual public report with statistics.
This bill came after the Lansing State Journal released an article on Jan. 28 after their year-and-a-half lengthy research analysis and investigation on the OIE on sexual misconduct allegations on campus. The article mentioned that 49 staff and faculty members were found in violation of sexual misconduct policies since 2015, though 11 are still working or affiliated with MSU.
Bill 57-65 advocates for responsible employee signage and was introduced by Sewick and seconded by Lyman Briggs College Representative Ishaan Modi. The bill serves to advocate for the use of visual reminders for all responsible employees to use. Visuals include front desk signage, email signatures, office door signage, name tag stickers and more.
Bill 57-66 advocates for MSU to publish disaggregated data in terms of race and ethnicity. The bill was introduced by the Asian Pacific American Student Organization Representative Brandon Hu and seconded by Representative Alan Saleh. The bill serves to advocate for changes in the collection and publication of disaggregated data on the student body’s diversity within the bounds of student privacy. Additionally, the bill advocates the “white” category be disaggregated into two subcategories. Examples include “white” and “Middle Eastern/North African.”
Representative Saleh, who is also the Vice President for Arab Culture Society, said that this bill is very important to him and other Arab students for representation and making sure they are heard.
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“I personally have had to identify as white on job applications, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Saleh. “I think that the MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) community needs to be able to represent ourselves and the need to actually establish our race and our identity, so having this desegregated data will really help us in the long run."
Bill 57-67 allocates $10,000 to the Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Transgender Resource Center’s “Unconditional Love” fund. The bill was introduced by Alliance for Queer and Allied Students Representative Cameron Lochrie and seconded by Agarwal. LBGTRC’s “Unconditional Love” Fund would use the allocated money to support the physical, mental, and financial health of LGBTQA+ students at MSU.
Bill 57-68 will amend election thresholds for General Assembly elections. The bill was introduced by College of Veterinary Medicine Representative Lee Ackerson and seconded by College of Veterinary Medicine Representative Travis Boling. The bill serves to amend the ASMSU Code of Operations to change the thresholds needed for General Assembly representative elections.
Bill 57-59 advocates to implementing the pilot fall break in the Fall 2021 calendar. The bill was introduced by College of Natural Science Representative Aubrey Hanes and seconded by Vice President for Academic Afffairs Bri Aiello and serves to advocate for the pilot fall break, scheduled for Fall 2020, to be added to the Fall 2021 calendar. The bill also advocated for the Vice President of Academic Affairs to continue their advocacy efforts when attending government committees and other associated meetings.
Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect that Bill 57-63 was introduced by International Students Association Representative Nikunj Agarwal and seconded by Womxn’s Council Representative Madison Sewick.
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