Open forums help university hire campus ombudsperson


South Dakota State is in search of an ombudsperson, and is using open forums to determine which candidates are the best fit for SDSU.

This new university role creates a go-to person for all questions concerning issues with the school’s land-grant mission and will report directly to President Chicoine. Open forums were held Nov. 3 and 6.

 This role, according to the official job description form, has the candidate “providing impartial consultation to faculty, staff and students who are concerned about issues.” On top of conflict resolution, the job encompasses monitoring campus activities that may violate individual rights, tracking good and bad trends through data and being a facilitator for anyone who has questions or concerns.

 For a role that will affect students directly, the search committee decided that an open forum where students could directly ask questions would be beneficial to the hiring process.

“In my experience, an open forum is held in conjunction with a search to include constituency groups the person in the position would serve,” said Ruth Harper, head of the search committee and counseling and human development professor. “In the case of the ombuds, the new hire will serve students, faculty, and staff—so all were invited to an open forum. I don’t think any students showed up, however.”

This is not the first position that has had an open forum to help the hiring process, however, said Marc Serret, the director of human resources.

 “[These open forums are] frequent but not all the time. Each search committee decides how they want to go about it,” Serrett said. “[In this case], the search committee wanted to get the person in front of as many people as they could. Generally, most executive positions go through this process or positions that directly affect students.”

These forums, on top of being another form of interview, help candidates determine if they want the position as well.            

“The candidate [also] learns more about the university; it is a two way interview, and the people viewing get a better look at the candidate and if they have a concerns,” Serrett said. “This is a good way to be able to ask candidates questions.”

While hiring members are in attendance at these forums, there is also a formal evaluation process that can ultimately help the hiring decision. People that attend the forum are asked to fill out a form at the end that helps the committee know what people think of the candidates and if there is any overwhelming impressions.

 “Much of the time those [form] comments at these forums make their way to the final decision of that candidate,” Serrett said. “It’s just one more data point for the hiring process for the hiring manager when they’re making their decision [and] they can be significant, people participating can have more ownership of the hiring process.”

 These forums are not a new way to help the hiring process, but they are also not required for every position. What these forums do is help get a general consensus on people’s thoughts on the candidates and gives the hiring team a chance to see the candidate perform in a different light in a larger group.

 “I’m big on getting the candidates in front of as many groups as we can, and it creates ownership as well for those who provide input,” Serrett said. “I think [the open forums] could [make candidates nervous] especially in front of a large group, so it gets them out of their comfort zone a little bit.”