Ombudsperson Working to Increase Transparency on Campus

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
January 13, 2015

Andrew Larratt-Smith, the university ombudsperson, has recently become better known and utilized more often by students. The position, which has been in place at UCR since 1968, is not an extension of the counseling center or student conduct office, as many people falsely believe it to be. Rather than being a member of the administration, he is a designated impartial independent employed by the university. Larratt-Smith deals primarily with circumstantial issues, external problems, and particular conflicts.

Larratt-Smith was initially interested in mediation. After attending law school, he learned about the ombudsperson position while earning his MA in dispute resolution. “The ombuds office is designed to be a safe place for people to navigate their problems,” he said. “I don’t have other duties and I don’t have an investigatory role. So by not acting as an agent of the university, I provide that level of distance for students, staff, and faculty members.”

In addition, he provides upward feedback to the administration. “As it grows, UCR faces the challenge of adapting to function as a larger institution. As a result, it requires much bigger needs systems in place.” Larratt-Smith often reports to the provost and executive vice chancellor, staff assembly, and dean of students. He also works with Student Life to provide training in conflict resolution.

His clients fall into four categories: undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty. While each case is unique, common elements often weave through all of them, and the ultimate goal is to help them navigate through the system and identify the best resource and action for them.  Approximately 15 percent of people who see him are graduate students, 20 percent are faculty members, 25 percent are undergraduate students, and 35 percent are staff members.  Over half of them are female.

When presented with a conflict, Larratt-Smith will introduce a range of options—some including mediation or sharing information. However, he doesn’t try to influence one way or the other—it must be a voluntary choice for everyone involved. The only instance in which he cannot promise confidentiality is when there is a threat of serious physical harm either to the person himself/herself or to another person.

When asked about the best part of the job, Larratt-Smith stated, “I’m very grateful to be able to work with people who are going through a really difficult situation. The fact that people are willing to entrust information with me is sort of sacred and I am always impressed by people’s willingness to work through obstacles. It’s not always about resolving everything perfectly—it’s about the sense that people feel they have improved.”  

This month marks his fourth year serving UCR as ombudsperson and he is working to increase his transparency on campus through outlets such as student organizations, learning communities, honors programs, and orientation.

The Office of the Ombudsperson is located in 390 Surge Building. For more information, please visit http://ombudsperson.ucr.edu.



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