Judy Piercy

Ohio University Ombudsperson Judy Piercy, who is retiring July 1.

Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing

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Ombudsperson provides support, guidance and resources to Ohio University community

Students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff can sometimes face unique challenges as they navigate through a large university’s policies, procedures and personnel. It’s the responsibility of one person to provide confidential support and resources for Bobcats as they move through their educational and professional journeys at Ohio University – and it belongs to the University’s ombudsperson. 

Judy Piercy has served in this role for more than three years of her 25-year career at Ohio University, which comes to a close as she retires July 1. 

“The ombuds position is one of the most valuable and effective conflict resolution resources we have here at Ohio University,” said Pam Benoit, executive vice president and provost. “In a community as large and complex as ours, it is inevitable that working relationships sometimes become strained and while not every situation can be reduced to miscommunication, fair resolution is often achieved when a neutral third party can help the parties talk with one another constructively. Judy has been an excellent ombudsperson and we will miss her thoughtful and affirming approach.”

In addition to her position as ombudsperson, Piercy served as a special projects coordinator with the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President. But it’s her time helping students, faculty, staff and members of the Bobcat family as ombudsperson that stands out as especially rewarding. 

“In my time as ombudsperson, I’ve worked with many people across campus,” Piercy said. “Almost every time I make a phone call asking for help or information, the person on the other end is very willing to do so. That says something to me about the people at Ohio University.” 

Though the ombudsperson position was created at OHIO in the 1970s, the concept dates back to Sweden in the 1700s, where their original charge was investigating wrongdoing on the part of government officials. Serving as public advocates, mediators and facilitators, ombudspeople now work in all types of settings including government organizations, companies, hospitals and institutions of higher education. 

At OHIO, the Office of the Ombudsperson is a confidential service open to all students, employees, alumni, parents and community members – as well as students and employees of regional campuses and online programs – with a mission to ensure members of the University community receive fair treatment and facilitate a positive working and learning environment. 

“I serve as a neutral party and a confidential source of information and support,” Piercy said. “Some people feel like they’re caught in a maze in a large institution and the ombudsperson serves as a resource for those people. I’m able to make inquiries on behalf of an individual, explain options under University policy and procedure and craft solutions for disputes. I advocate for a fair process for everyone.”

Among the most common challenges Piercy works to solve include grade disputes, answer questions regarding financial aid and billing and mediate conflict between parties or among teams. About half of those seeking her services are students; administrative staff, faculty and parents also come to the ombudsperson for help. The office averages nearly 300 cases per academic year. 

“My goal is to empower an individual to do as much as they can to address the issue and provide help when necessary,” she said. 

With a background in student affairs and residential housing, Piercy is no stranger to mediating conflict. 

“The power of active listening is the key,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t jump quickly to resolution. Sometimes you want to fix things, but you have to help that person explore and get to the root of the issue. You’ll have a better chance of getting to the resolution that’s going to be most effective.” 

Piercy said the ombudsperson role involves patience and the ability to withhold judgement – and resources are available to help in that endeavor. 

“Athens Area Mediation Services provides training for the University ombudsperson and also acts as a third party mediator on campus,” she explained. “In addition, the International Ombudsman Association provides certification, professional development and ongoing education to those serving in that capacity for their organizations. There is even a special section for ombuds serving in an academic setting.” 

Despite the challenging work as an office of one, Piercy said that people on campus have a favorable perception of the ombudsperson and she has seen everyone from deans and department heads to faculty and staff members willing to help be part of solutions. 

“I seek first to understand, then be understood,” Piercy said. “Helping two people connect at a human level, discuss an issue and come out in a better place is extremely rewarding.”

Current Ohio University employees who are interested in the ombudsperson position can learn more and apply at the following link: https://www.ohiouniversityjobs.com/postings/18873