Kathleen Hutnik Named Ombudsperson

Hutnik was appointed to the position and joined the current three-person team in the fall.

Story by

Carina Sitkus

Kathleen Hutnik

Kathleen Hutnik, associate deputy provost for graduate education, joins Jennifer Swann and Anne Meltzer in the Ombuds Office.

The Ombuds Office is a confidential resource available to all faculty, staff, students and administrators. An ombudsperson is a neutral party who helps anyone within the community —students, faculty, staff, and even alumni and visitors to the university who have an association with Lehigh—resolve conflicts or raise topics of concern.

“The ombuds are guided by the four pillars of the profession: confidentiality, independence, impartiality and informality,” Hutnik said. “All of those pillars are important … but I’m drawn to the informal [aspect] because sometimes people aren’t sure how to interpret a situation and don’t necessarily want to take formal action."

Hutnik said an ombudsperson can be a sounding board and serves an important function in helping community members think through situations or difficulties, both large and small.

“Maybe something will feel off but [a person] might not have clarity on what that is,” said Hutnik. An ombudsperson is an active listener, she explained. The goal is not to be a “fixer” or serve as an official advocate, but rather to help the person do their own best thinking, she said. The Ombuds Office also can connect community members to the appropriate resources, including how to make a formal complaint, if that is what the person chooses.

The three-person ombuds team meets monthly to discuss any trends in issues or concerns. If applicable, they raise these themes to senior leadership for awareness, without any personally identifiable information. Part of the role includes educating the university community on how the Ombuds Office can serve as a confidential resource for resolving conflicts and approaching difficult conversations. Traditionally the Ombuds Office has been staffed with two faculty members. With the addition of Hutnik, the ombuds team not only has more resources but a representative from the administrative staff.

“I am grateful that the university invests in this office. I think it is an important part of building a healthier Lehigh by providing this confidential space for people to safely think through conflict resolution” said Hutnik. “The three of us are here to help.”

Independent of the university administration, an ombudsperson 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.

Hutnik, associate deputy provost for graduate education, first came to Lehigh as an undergraduate student, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. She returned as a Lehigh employee in 2001 after earning her Ph.D. in English language and literature from Indiana University Bloomington. Hutnik served first as an assistant director of academic support, was named director of graduate student life in 2007, and in 2014 became associate dean for graduate student life. In her current role as associate deputy provost, Hutnik provides leadership, coordination, direction and oversight related to the activities and initiatives that support the academic, personal and professional success of graduate students.

She said her role as ombudsperson builds on her past work at Lehigh and is similar to her current focus on enriching and strengthening the graduate student experience at Lehigh in that she strives to be impartial, independent, and keep confidences in order to build trust with students, faculty and staff as she facilitates the resolution of conflicts or difficulties.

“One of the reasons I was interested in serving as an ombudsperson and getting additional training is because it would be an extension of the work that I do now with graduate students and the faculty who support them,” she said.

Learn more about the Ombuds Office here. Students, faculty and staff can contact any ombudsperson, whose contact information is available on the website.

Story by

Carina Sitkus