Associate Professor Max Kirk helps fill valuable role as Ombudsman

Published on February 2, 2016 by co-Provosts Erica Austin and Ron Mittelhammer

One of our main charges in the Office of the Provost is to provide support and foster the success of our students and faculty. The Office of the Ombudsman is a critical partner in helping our community members reach academic and professional goals.

Tena Old and Max Kirk are WSU’s ombudsmen, serving as neutral partners to listen to concerns, explain policies and procedures, and point advisees to other resources, if necessary. The ombudsmen maintain confidentiality and they work to objectively help solve problems for students, faculty, and staff at all levels and locations.

“What we can do as ombudsmen is help individuals understand the university’s processes, the resources available to them and how those resources can help,” says Old, who has served as an ombudsman since 2011.

At WSU, we’re fortunate to have two quality individuals in the ombudsman capacity. The majority of U.S. colleges and universities do not have a university-wide ombudsman, let alone two.
Old’s background is on the staff/administrative professional side. Kirk, who started in the ombudsman office in 2015, is an associate professor in the School of Design and Construction. He received training through the International Ombudsman Association and is excited to fulfill another important role at WSU.

“I had a conversation with (late president) Elson Floyd several years ago and I told him our university needed a great communicator,” Kirk says. “A lot of faculty members have a difficult time understanding their relationship to the rest of the university. It’s a complex place with a lot of rules and regulations and helping people understand those really intrigued me.”

In 2014, WSU’s Office of the Ombudsman handled 270 cases from individuals across the WSU system. Old says her role evolves based on the needs of the people she’s serving.

“Lots of times, people just need to come in and talk,” she says. “They may not feel like they can talk to co-workers or their supervisor and we can listen to their issues, brainstorm with them and help them find solutions. We can help them navigate the system. Not all universities have ombudsmen and it’s really a wonderful resource.”

Beyond Pullman, the Office of the Ombudsman is available to WSU’s urban campuses, extension offices and Global Campus students, faculty and staff. In addition to Old and Kirk, principal assistant Janet Herrlinger can also provide assistance to those in need during regular business hours.

Visit the Office of the Ombudsman in Wilson-Short Hall, Room 2, email to ombudsman@wsu.edu, or call (509) 335-1195. If you have questions, comments, or feedback on this post, or other matters concerning the Office of the Provost, please email them to provost.social@wsu.edu.