Jennifer Swann, professor of biological sciences, has been named a Lehigh Ombudsperson.
The Ombuds Office is a confidential resource available to all faculty, staff, students and administrators. Ombudspersons are neutral parties who help parties resolve conflicts within the university community. Independent of the university administration, ombudspersons can offer suggestions regarding ways to navigate conflict, provide information on policies and procedures, and identify possible solutions or the appropriate resources or campus contacts to help resolve issues.
“[Ombudspersons] play a really important role with managing conflict writ large for the university,” says Swann. “Our job is to listen and help people deal with the issues that they're experiencing at Lehigh.”
Those contacting the Ombuds Office should expect guidance, but not to have their problem solved for them.
“We're not here to fix the problem; rather, our role is to manage the conflict to a point of resolution. The best way to manage is when both sides are provided the opportunity to voice their concerns and leave feeling like they were heard. The most optimal is when they generate a solution to the issue [themselves]. If other issues surface, we might be able to continue efforts to solve the problem from that perspective,” she says.
The role of the ombudsperson also goes beyond conflict mediation. They are charged with observing patterns in what they hear from members of the community, coordinating the information and sharing it with leadership. “If looking back we see that an issue tracks to a particular policy, and we see trends in that direction, then we can alert the administration to the fact that those policies seem to be causing a continual set of problems that could be alleviated if the policy was different,” explains Swann.
An Essential Resource
Swann, who holds a doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from Northwestern University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in negotiation and conflict resolution from Columbia University, sees value in conflict and says there’s much to learn through navigating disagreement.
“You will learn a lot when somebody says, ‘I disagree with you,’” she explains. “[You can consider] what information they have that has brought them to a different situation, a different idea.”
Swann enjoys supporting people as they work through an issue.
“We have intelligent people at Lehigh. My belief is that if you give them a chance to work with a problem, they'll actually come up with a very creative solution, which is so interesting,” she says.
Although ombudspersons do not choose sides, determine right from wrong, or provide legal advice or psychological counseling, they are there to listen, offer information, clarify issues and help identify options for resolution. Swann encourages students, faculty, staff and administrators to use the Ombuds Office early in a conflict and whenever necessary.
“Come and see us, come and talk to us,” she says. “There is no issue too small… Those tiny things can eventually add up to a problem that is too difficult to solve. The quicker you can get to an issue, and the smaller the issue is when you get to it, the easier it is to solve.”
Swann will join Anne Meltzer, professor of earth and environmental sciences, in this role.
“The Ombuds Office is a valuable resource to help students, staff, and faculty solve problems and resolve conflicts,” says Meltzer. “We're here to help... All discussions with the ombuds are confidential. Jennifer is a great addition to the Ombuds Office. Her passion for helping people is clear. I look forward to working with her.”
Learn more about the Ombuds Office here.