Attending: Beth Andrews, David Gaylord, Kerry Heywood, Di Jin, Mary Lardie, Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink, Peggy Rose, Amelie Scheltema, Fiamma Straneo, Shona Vitelli, Joan Watring (all WHOI Diversity Committee), as well as Julia Westwater (Academic Programs Office) and Karen Rauss (Openline).
Co-chair Shona Vitelli welcomed everyone and introduced Karen Rauss to our committee. Karen had graciously accepted our invitation to update us on “Openline”, her outside service for the WHOI community that specializes in confidential advice on interpersonal conflict, harassment, financial and professional misconduct and other matters previously covered by her as an on-site ombudsperson. Karen worked for WHOI for 22 years, 20 of which she served as WHOI’s ombudsperson. WHOI was faced with the possibility of having no on-site ombudsperson when Karen decided to take early retirement last year. The concerns by many, including the senior administration, were alleviated when Karen suggested providing an ombuds-like service by her company “Openline”. Karen has provided this service on a contract basis for WHOI since January. Although her service is currently exclusively with WHOI, she may act as a service provider to other institutions/businesses in the future.
Our committee was initially concerned about the lack of on-site presence and the ability to meet Karen on campus. She told us that most of her business has been and continues to be done by email and phone. The bulk of her activities are related to interpersonal conflicts that reflect a breakdown in communication. Some of her former duties are now the responsibility of the EEO (Equal Opportunity Officer) at HR and are also partly covered by other outside contractors who provide training. One important difference in her new service is the contractual requirement to report harassment, financial irregularities and professional misconduct. According to Karen, this mandatory reporting requirement “makes things much easier” for her because it removes the ambiguity of what to report. Confidentiality will be maintained if requested and files are not being kept, a general ombuds policy. It is important to point out that the legal framework of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, signed into law on July 30, 2002, that regulates reporting of financial irregularities involving for-profit organizations does not yet apply to not-for-profit organizations. Karen reports to Jim Luyten and Carolyn Bunker every six months.
The committee suggested making “Openline” more visible at WHOI. Karen brought “Openline” fliers to meeting. These flyers are currently available at the Academic Programs Office and are being handed out to incoming students. Into to Openline handout is also included in all new employee orientation packets through HR. We suggested distributing this flyer to the Department Offices and posting them on bulletin boards. Amelie suggested to distribute them to every WHOI lab. Di Jin asked whether the “Openline” phone-line is listed in the WHOI phone book. Karen told us that her service started after the 2007 phone book was printed, but that the new phone book will contain the contact number. This number is connected to a dedicated cell-phone exclusively being used by “Openline”. David kindly offered to add an “Openline” link to our committee website. A WHOI Headline notification was posted a day after our meeting, and periodic reminders are planned.
For the future beyond the “Openline” service contract, Karen stressed the importance of a confidential, well-trained (certified), independent “Ombuds” service, possibly a half-time staff position, for an Institution like WHOI. The International Ombudsman Association (IOA, www.ombudsassociation.org) works towards the goal of an “ombuds certification” process. Karen encouraged us to look into the services provided by the MIT Ombuds Office (web.mit.edu/ombud/). This office may have information on resources that are relevant to training for WHOI staff. Karen stressed the importance of a good track record of outside service providers and encouraged our committee to attend training sessions/workshops before offering them to the WHOI community. She stressed the importance of short (1-2 hours) training sessions.
The remaining 10 minutes of the meeting were dedicated to planning the next committee meeting that will be an “Open Meeting”. We decided to provide attendees with a short historical background of the WHOI Diversity Initiative and our Diversity Committee. This introduction will be followed by excerpts of the “Diversity Status Report” we submitted to the Senior Administration in July. We welcome suggestions on how to make WHOI a more diverse and welcoming community that succeeds in making everyone feel comfortable. We decided to continue our discussion on future goals and activities at future committee meetings.
The Committee agreed to meet again on October 30 from 1:00-2:00 pm in Watson 201.