Faculty Ombuds Officer
The Faculty Ombuds Officer deals with conflicts that arise among faculty members and between faculty members and administrators. The position is located in the Office of the President. The Ombuds has no role in appraising the qualifications of faculty members for tenure or promotion.
In a typical case, a faculty member or administrator contacts the Ombuds and explains the problem from his/her own perspective. Sometimes the Ombuds simply counsels the client, helping him/her to understand the situation and to develop a strategy for dealing with it independently (i.e., without direct involvement of the Ombuds.)
If counseling alone is not sufficient, the client may authorize the Ombuds to contact the other party or parties involved in order to get their perspectives on the matter and see what possibilities there may be for mutually acceptable resolution. The Ombuds may practice "shuttle diplomacy", going back and forth between the parties in order to encourage them to consider various options. This phase of the grievance process is referred to as "negotiation".
Where appropriate, and with the agreement of all parties, the Ombuds may set up a formal "mediation", in which the parties come together face to face and propose specific ways to deal with the problems that have been identified. The Ombuds facilitates this process, and takes note of areas of agreement. Ideally, the parties work out a mutually agreeable solution at this stage.
If the parties cannot reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, then the dissatisfied party may file a formal grievance document with the University Senate. The Ombuds is no longer involved in the process at this point. The Senate appoints an ad hoc review committee to study the grievance and call witnesses to testify as appropriate. The review committee eventually recommends a final resolution of the matter. If either party refuses to accept the review committee's judgment, he or she may appeal directly to the University President.
Interpersonal relations are the most frequent focus of faculty complaints, followed by salaries (including both specific salary levels and equity issues.) Tenure and promotion timing and procedures (not qualifications), workload, sabbatical and other benefits are also significant.
Dr. Karen M. O'Brien is a professor in the Department of Psychology and has served as a faculty member at the University of Maryland for more than 25 years. Dr. O'Brien held the position of associate chair for undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology for over four years, and served as co-training director for the counseling psychology doctoral program for eight years. Dr. O'Brien is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, and has published numerous book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Through her research, teaching, and service, Dr. O'Brien strives to generate knowledge to address social concerns, to educate and mentor students to achieve their potential, to assist faculty in creating equitable, inclusive, and healthy work environments, and to contribute to the communities where she lives and works. Dr. O’Brien studies factors related to successful management of work and family, end-of-life issues and dating violence. She teaches courses on intimate partner violence and death, dying and grieving, and supervises service learning experiences for undergraduates who work with children living in shelters for abused women. Dr. O'Brien is a licensed psychologist in the State of Maryland.
Office: 2147B Biology-Psychology Building, College Park, MD 20742