November 20, 2010

Disrespectful behaviors at U of I?

IOWA CITY — Complaints of disrespectful behavior to the University of Iowa Office of the Ombudsperson have increased steadily over the past four years, a trend university officials called disappointing and disturbing.

In presenting their annual report to the Faculty Council on Tuesday, two ombudsmen said 22 percent of their office’s visitors in 2009-10 came with complaints about disrespectful behavior. That’s up from 17 percent in 2008-09, 12 percent in 2007-08 and 8 percent in 2006-07.

That follows an alarming national trend showing workplaces in general are becoming more disrespectful, with incidents of bullying, yelling, swearing and shunning, staff ombudsman Cynthia Joyce said.

“It is a real concern to us,” she said.

Two years ago, the university office started tracking complaints of bullying, which falls under the category of disrespectful behavior. Explicit complaints about workplace bullying were made by 10 percent of visitors in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.

“The consequences can be very severe ... so we’re worried about that as well,” Joyce said.

Such behavior is a departmental culture issue that must be addressed at the level of each department, said Susan Johnson, the faculty ombudsman.

The office served an all-time high of 517 visitors in 2009-10, a 6 percent increase from the previous year. University staff make up the bulk of the visitors, at 48 percent, followed by 30 percent students and 17 percent faculty.

The increase in visitors could be because of better visibility of the office on campus, along with the belief that early intervention in conflicts is of value, officials said.

The largest area of concern and complaint for all visitor groups to the office stems from a supervisory relationship, such as with a boss or dean — or a faculty member, in the case of students.

The office also is seeing an growing number of situations in which information is posted on Facebook or some other social media site that begins or worsens a conflict. Some people have been fired after inappropriate Facebook postings, Johnson said.


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