MCS GSAC Meeting Minutes
March 22, 2000

| MCS GSAC Home Page |

March 22, 2000

In Attendance:

Heather Ziegler
Richard Pilston
Aimee Tomlinson
Alexander Bondarenko
Kathryn Trapp
Marc Fasnacht
David Owen
Lorraine Miller

John Woolford (Biological Sciences)
Bill Brown (Biological Sciences)
Rea Freeland (Chemistry)
Jim Greenberg (Mathematical Sciences)
Rich Holman (Physics)
Susan Henry (Dean of MCS)

1999 - 2000 GSAC Minutes Archive
May 5, 2000
April 12, 2000
March 1, 2000
February 9, 2000
January 13, 2000


A faculty representative from each department in MCS attended this meeting to discuss the issue of departmental ombudspersons for the graduate students, and to give feedback on the recommended role and desired qualities for the position. Discussion focused on the motivation for raising the issue of ombudspersons, and whether or not there was enough of a need to address the issue formally via development of a policy. These concerns were backed by a reluctance to create a new administrative function that had no clearly defined procedures or expected returns.

In order to address these concerns, the background of the idea for departmental ombudspersons was discussed in some detail. The roots of the issue lie in the findings of the Graduate Advisory Board and the results of the university-wide graduate survey which was completed last year. These sources indicated that graduate students sometimes feel as though there is no one they can consult, particularly when they do not have a good relationship with their advisor or when their advisor does not have the resources to guide them (i.e. concerning non-academic issues.) For the most part, graduate students have identified individuals in their departments who they feel comfortable approaching with certain issues. This person might be an advisor, the graduate student coordinator, or a faculty member. These individuals are approached for a variety of reasons: they have useful knowledge and experience, they are trusted by the student, or they are in a position to influence outcomes. Despite the evidence that students often seek help on their own, it is also the case that students often do so with some trepidation. There is no way to be certain that their interests and privacy will be unequivocally protected, and, particularly in the case of non-academic issues, students might be uncertain of who in their department has the qualifications and/or the knowledge to advise them. The purpose of designating a single ombudsperson in each department is to provide an advising resource which students can turn to with any issue. Sometimes the advice might be referral to another campus resource; nonetheless, the ombudsperson will be clearly identified as a non-partial individual whose job is to help students resolve problems and find information.

GSAC members and faculty representatives discussed how graduate students currently seek advice in their respective departments. Biological Sciences does not have a formally designated advocate for graduate students and, due to the upcoming change in department head, its administrative organization is in flux. There are two directors of graduate studies whom students could approach if they felt so inclined. Chemistry has the most formal graduate student advocacy system in place. Rea Freeland is the designated advocate (it is a duty of her special faculty position), and she sits on the graduate program committee. Mathematical Sciences has no procedure in place; students approach whomever they feel most comfortable talking to. Physics recently asked Rich Holman to serve as a graduate student ombudsperson, but he expressed uncertainty over what his responsibilities as such would be.

Based on information they received during the discussion, the faculty representatives agreed that the proposal calling for the development of a policy on departmental ombudspersons is sound. Their recommendations for a draft policy include the following:

1) The draft policy should include a clear description of the duties of the position. In the most general terms, the duties of the ombudsperson would be to answer non-academic questions not addressed in the graduate handbook and act as mediator when there is a grievance involving a graduate student.

2) The revised draft policy should clearly demonstrate the need for ombudspersons, as well as identify the role and desired qualities of the position.

3) The desired length of term should be considered and outlined in the policy. Probably the term should be for a duration of several years in order to facilitate the building of trust with faculty and students.

4) Support, in the form of training and informational resources, should be made available to the ombudspersons. Eric Grotzinger, Barbara Lazarus, Indira Nair, and Rea Freeland were identified as probable sources of consultation for training and resource development. Also the "calibrating expectations" project should be completed, and the results made available to ombudspersons as an advising resource.

GSAC ACTION: Rich Pilston, with input from all GSAC members, will develop a draft policy to be reviewed by the faculty representatives. Pending any revisions they suggest, the policy will be presented at the next department head's meeting with the request that it be put on the agenda for College Council.


At the end of the current semester, Susan Henry must report to the Advisory Board on the initiatives taken by MCS in response to the recommendations made last spring. During the past year, Susan has met with each of the departments to identify areas needing improvement and to begin implementing changes. Her attendance at this GSAC meeting was to get feedback about the effectiveness of things that have been done, and to gather information about areas that still need to be improved. The following topics were discussed:

1) The issue of communication (between students of different disciplines, between students and MCS faculty, and between students and MCS administration) was identified as an area that had needed much improvement. This issue has been and continues to be addressed through GSAC initiatives. The new GSAC web site provides a forum for disseminating information about careers, college policies, GSAC initiatives, and departmental contacts. Plans are underway for social activities to facilitate development of constructive relationships. It was agreed that a fall "semester kick off" social event should be planned since the current semester is drawing to a close. Susan urged GSAC members to be active in approaching their fellow students to spread the word about these initiatives, and to identify other issues that should be addressed.

2) Career resources, particularly for students wishing to go into industry, needed improvement. Renee Starek met with GSAC this semester and got feedback on how better to serve the graduate community. She has since provided information for the Career Development page of the GSAC web site as well as created a newsletter containing useful information about career resources on campus. Susan requested that GSAC notify her if they believe further action is warranted.

3) Susan assured GSAC that she was fully supportive of the development of a policy calling for departmental ombudspersons. Her main objective is to provide a forum for dealing with problems before they result in damage to the education of a student or the career of a faculty member.

4) The question was raised of whether or not a survey of the graduate students at the college level would be more useful to MCS than one done at the university level. It was agreed that such a survey would be useful since it could be tailored to address issues of current import to the college, and contain sections relevant to each of the departments. Chemistry recently conducted such a survey and found the results extremely useful. Rich Pilston will bring copy of this survey to the next GSAC meeting to use as a model in the development of a college survey.

GSAC ACTION: In order to help Susan formulate her response to the Advisory Board, each member of GSAC has agreed to write (or collaborate in writing) a paragraph describing the issue he/she has been concentrating on, and initiatives underway to address those issues. The issues being addressed are:

Calibrating Expectations for Graduate Students: Brian and Alex Career Development: Heather and Marc Departmental Ombudsperson: Rich and Kathryn MCS Social Events: Aimee

Susan would like this information mid-April so she can include it in her response to the Advisory Board.


Due to a busy schedule, Dorothy has decided to step down as a member of GSAC. The members of GSAC would like to recognize her for her service and thank her for her many contributions to the initiatives of the committee.