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Release: Aug. 22, 2001

UI Ombudsperson reports drop in incivility complaints

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Office of the Ombudsperson's 15th Annual Report credits greater awareness among faculty, staff and students for a decline in the number of incivility complaints it received last year, most notably complaints of abusive and violent behavior.

The number of incivility complaints dropped from 98 in the 1999-2000 academic year to 83 in 2000-2001. Reports of abusive and violent behavior, which while related to the problem are counted apart from general complaints of incivility, dropped over the same period from 11 cases to just three.

And while the percentage of complaints about incivility rose among faculty, from 26 percent in 1999-2000 to 38 percent in 2000-2001, it was down among both students (from 36 percent to 21 percent) and staff (from 34 percent to 32 percent).

University Ombudsperson Maile Sagen said the numbers are less significant than the efforts undertaken by the UI last year after her office's 14th Annual Report noted a significant jump in complaints about workplace conflicts. At the urging of the Ombudsperson's Office, UI colleges and departments organized several programs and events to raise awareness about incivility and educate employees about their options should they face such problems. In May, an estimated 500 employees attended a university-wide event that featured dramatic presentations and a panel discussion.

"I think we got people's attention, which was our intent a year ago," Sagen said.

Efforts to combat incivility are continuing this academic year as well. A brochure is in the works for spring 2002 that will list all the programming available on the topic of creating a respectful workplace. And the University Dispute Resolution Committee, which has just completed its revisions of the UI's Sexual Harassment/Consensual Relationship Policy, will work on drafting a policy on general harassment.

"We have policies for sexual harassment, discrimination and violence but not one for this general, everyday sort of rudeness and offensive behavior that contribute to an atmosphere of incivility," Sagen said. Without such a policy in place, she added, supervisors have no official document to reference in disciplining employees.

"I think having these policies in place, and having them made known to everyone who works here, will be very important," she said.

Overall, the Ombudsperson's Office saw a 6 percent drop in all types of complaints combined, from 331 in 1999-2000 to 310 in 2000-2001. The majority of the complaints came from UI staff (169, or 54 percent of the total complaints), followed by students (89, or 29 percent), faculty (45, or 15 percent) and "other," defined as anonymous or from outside the university (seven, or 2 percent).

Most of the staff complaints were related to job conflicts with coworkers and supervisors (47 percent for merit staff, 55 percent for professional and scientific staff). The same held true for faculty in 42 percent of the complaints. Student complaints, on the other hand, were largely about academic issues (70 percent for undergraduate students and 67 percent for graduate students), such as grades and grade appeals, conflicts with faculty members and conflicts with advisors.

Of particular interest to the Ombudsperson's Office were complaints by students and faculty about academic dishonesty, such as cheating and plagiarism.

"These problems are more prevalent than ever, especially with the increase in group and team assignments, electronic testing and students taking and using material off the Internet without attribution," the annual report states.

The report says this problem is plaguing colleges and universities across the country and it suggests that deans and faculty consider countermeasures in the form of software packages, such as Scanexam for exams and Turnitin, a plagiarism-detection program developed at the University of California-Berkeley.

The report said it's important in the coming year for instructors to make clear to students the university's policy on academic honesty and the potential repercussions for cheating. Even if faculty don't use cheating-detection software, alerting students that it could be used may serve as a further deterrent.

"We all need to be mindful of why academic institutions value academic honesty and to continually transmit that to students," the report says.

UI President Mary Sue Coleman appoints university ombudspersons. Sagen serves as the staff ombudsperson. Lon Moeller, clinical associate professor in the Tippie College of Business, is serving as the half-time faculty ombudsperson.

The full text of the 15th annual report is available on the Web at or by mail from the UI Office of the Ombudsperson, C108 Seashore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.