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News Release

For immediate use

Dec. 1, 2004 -- No. 580

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Blair, Mesibov selected to fill newly created ombuds posts

By GARY MOSS
News Services

 

CHAPEL HILL Ė The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has filled two positions to staff a new ombuds office, which was the top recommendation of the Chancellorís Task Force for a Better Workplace report earlier this year.

Wayne A. Blair, who has served as the ombuds officer at Columbia University since 2002, will hold the full-time, non-faculty position as an employee exempt from the State Personnel Act. Laurie Mesibov, a longtime professor in the UNC School of Government, will serve as the half-time faculty ombudsperson. She will continue working half time in her tenured faculty post.

Chancellor James Moeser announced the appointments earlier today (Dec. 1) at a regular meeting of the Employee Forum, which advises the UNC administration on employee issues.

"Both are highly qualified professionals who will bring complementary experiences and perspectives to bear on our workplace issues," Moeser said. "I have every confidence in the skills of Wayne and Laurie to make this office a valuable resource for our faculty and staff by providing a confidential, informal and neutral dispute-resolution service. We look forward to the contributions they will make to the Carolina community."

Blair and Mesibov were selected following the work of a 12-member campus wide search committee chaired by Professor Frayda Bluestein in the School of Government that included faculty, staff and administrators. The panel identified finalists for both positions and held forums on campus to encourage feedback. Moeser made the final decisions to select both candidates, who will report to him.

Both Blair and Mesibov will start their jobs in February and prepare to open the office next spring. The office will be located in university-owned property at 134 East Franklin St., with the entrance off Porthole Alley. (This space formerly was occupied by the Institute for African American Research.)

In addition to providing a dispute-resolution service, the office will identify and recommend improvements or structural changes that may improve the work environment for all employees. Designed to supplement UNCís grievance procedures for employees, the office will play an advisory role in that formal process.

Blair said the importance that the task force attached to creating the office was a major appeal in his decision to join UNC. A second factor was the opportunity to build an ombuds office from the ground up. A third and equally important factor was the quality of the university.

Mesibov said bringing her new position to life will be a great opportunity and considerable challenge.

"The new office is important for two reasons," Mesibov said.  "First, it will provide a safe place for faculty and staff to bring disputes and broader problems. Second, the ombudsperson will be a source of ideas for improving the professional lives of Carolinaís faculty and staff and the functioning of the university."

Mesibov earned her bachelorís of arts degree from Stanford University. After graduating from the UNC School of Law, Mesibov joined the School of Government, specializing in public school law. That ongoing work requires many skills Mesibov said she will need as an ombudsperson. Those skills include listening, asking questions, analyzing issues, synthesizing information and communicating clearly.

Mesibov spent four years, from 1996 to 2000, in the Office of the Provost, working directly with many campus units on a wide variety of topics, functioning much as an ombudsperson does, she said. She chaired the Performance Management Review Board, advised employee grievance panels and served as a member of the Faculty Grievance Committee.

Blair earned a bachelor of arts in liberal studies and a master of arts in technology and society from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is working on a doctor of education in international educational development at Columbia.

Blair joined Columbia in 1995 as assistant director of student activities, and then was promoted to serve as director of student activities three years later. He went on to serve as special adviser to the dean of student affairs and as interim deputy director of Columbiaís Office of Disability Services before he was named Columbiaís associate ombuds officer.

Blair said Columbia has had an ombuds office for more than a decade. When senior administration sought to add an associate ombuds officer, people urged him to apply.

Blair said he hesitated at first, citing what he thought was his lack of formal experience. But they corrected him, he said.

"They told me that my experience in conflict resolution, mediation and working collaboratively with faculty, administration and students was, in fact, ideal," Blair said. "Also, it was an opportunity where I could apply my counseling and supervisory experiences to a larger scale."

Blair said people have to feel safe and that can only happen if they trust the people with whom they talk will protect their confidence while listening to their concerns with a neutral ear.

"They have to feel comfortable about approaching us," Blair said. "We need to earn their trust by demonstrating fairness and sensitivity."

People at Columbia came to know they could trust him, Blair said, and that is the same kind of reputation he will seek to establish at UNC.

Blair and Mesibov said they looked forward to working with each other and both see their different experiences and backgrounds as complementary.

"Iím just beginning to learn the culture of the university and clearly she brings greater understanding of its dynamics and of the faculty and staff. I look forward to learning from her," Blair said.

Added Mesibov, "Wayne has good experience and excellent skills. Iíve met him and Iím confident he and I will work very well together. I am excited."

Moeser created the Chancellorís Task Force for a Better Workplace in 2003 to advise the chancellor on action steps to improve the workplace at Carolina. The task force, co-chaired by the chancellor and Employee Forum Chair Tommy Griffin, completed its report earlier this year and presented its findings at a campus forum.

Other recent progress on task force recommendations has included launching a pilot part-time undergraduate degree program for employees, jumpstarting a computer loan initiative, using private funds to create a staff emergency loan program and to endow a scholarship program for children of employees, and expanding the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Awards, going from four to six recipients and increasing the monetary award. For more details on task force accomplishments, go to http://hr.unc.edu/specialprograms/betterworkplace/accomplishments/index.

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