UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’

Designation honors campus efforts to create a 'culture of wellness'

The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi.

The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi, which has aggressively implemented many health and wellness initiatives for its nearly 2,900 employees, has been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces for 2015.

The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health hand out the designation each year. The university will be honored at a banquet Friday (July 31) in Jackson along with other recipients of the award. 

“The University of Mississippi is pleased to be recognized for its efforts in improving the health and well-being of our faculty and staff,” Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks said. “This is a great achievement and could not have been done without the joint efforts of many throughout our university who have worked to improve the health and quality of life for all of us.”

The recognition honors the UM community’s hard work on health issues, said Andrea M. Jekabsons, UM assistant director of employment and training and project manager with RebelWell.

“The recognition as one of the ‘Healthiest Workplaces’ is an honor,” she said. “The RebelWell team is working to create a culture of wellness. This includes physical activity opportunities, health screenings, general wellness education and nutrition services, as well as constant visual reminders to encourage healthier habits.”

The university benefits from healthy employees for several reasons, Jekabsons said. 

Healthy employees are likely to be more productive, actively engaged and fully present when at work, and may experience improved job satisfaction and organizational commitment,” she said. “These may seem like benefits to the university, but more importantly, an improved health status is a benefit to the individual.”

Campus health programs have benefited from a $250,000 wellness grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The American Heart Association has also consistently recognized UM as a “Fit Friendly” employer, either at the gold or platinum level since 2009. The university has also made the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which measures employee overall satisfaction, seven of the eight years the list has existed.

The university developed the RebelWell program, which provides a range of opportunities for employees to become educated about living a healthy lifestyle and also offers group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling, among other services.

Last year, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc joined the RebelWell team, representing the university’s senior leadership. LaBanc is chair of the RebelWell Campus Committee.

“This is such a critical organizational initiative as evidenced by its inclusion in our strategic plan,”LaBanc said. “Efforts like these reinforce the Ole Miss way – we are a place that cares about one another and wants faculty, staff and students to have a positive and rewarding life experience. I believe the work of the RebelWell has contributed to employee wellness and happiness, and in turn, contributes to a more engaging academic environment for students.”

The university has also updated its employee policies to allow more flexibility and time for employees to work on their health.

University leaders created the UM2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers. UM also set itself as a beacon of leadership on health issues across Mississippi by educating and fostering a community that is committed to healthy and sustainable lifestyles and campus environment. The vision also included developing and integrating industry-leading programs and initiatives that will transform nutrition, health promotion, exercise and employee wellness.

In an effort to enhance the university’s individual health, community well-being and positive work life balance, the university’s leadership has also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a more healthy work environment.

Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs. Managers are also allowed to let their employees participate for up to three hours each month in approved wellness-related activities such as university-hosted walks, cooking demonstrations and physical fitness activities on campus. Employees can also be allowed to attend on-campus wellness seminars.

Employees are also allowed breaks twice per day to encourage them to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health.

Each “Healthiest Workplace” honoree will be featured and recognized and will receive their award during the presentation program, said Alan Turner, Mississippi Business Journal publisher. The program is slated for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Jackson Hilton Hotel. The Mississippi Business Journal will publish a special glossy magazine in August with profiles of all honorees that will be sent to all MBJ print and digital subscribers and will also be available on the website. 

“We’re delighted to see Ole Miss participating in this event and taking the lead in providing a healthy working environment for staff, as well as students,” Turner said. “We’re excited and hope this will translate to many other employers, agencies and institutions, as the importance to our state of improving the physical health and well-being of our citizens can hardly be overstated.”

Staff Member Keeps Pharmacy School’s Equipment in Working Order

Derek Oglesby

Derek Oglesby

A leap of faith brought Lowndes County native Derek Oglesby to the University of Mississippi.

“I hail from ‘Bulldog country,'” Oglesby said. “Ole Miss was never really on my list as one of the places I expected to work when I grew up.”

That changed, however, when Oglesby applied for a position with the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy’s Marijuana Research Project 14 years ago. Hired as a groundskeeper, he eventually transitioned to the National Center for Natural Products Research’s Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden and served as an associate research and development horticulturist.

Growing up around farmland, Oglesby fit in well at the garden. During his tenure there, he worked with the resident botanist to improve the quality of tools and products used to assist research. He designed and built an array of these tools, some of which included wooden arbors and a trellis for climbing medicinal plant species, a mechanical dryer used to dry harvested plant materials under specific research parameters, and a plant propagator. He also made improvements and advancements to the plant specimen grinding program.

Oglesby said he is particularly proud of his involvement in the construction of the medicinal plant garden at its new location.

“It was very rewarding to get to work so closely with the architects, Facilities Planning, the Office of Research and NCNPR administration throughout that entire project from design to completion,” he said. “The garden has been an important part of the school’s research program since it began in 1965. We wanted to ensure that the new facility would not lose its rich history but would be able to thrive well into the future.”

After 12 years, Oglesby joined the school’s then-new Technical Services team, which provides an array of services, from maintaining the school’s vehicles to attending to large-scale mechanical systems and problems.

“Derek has quite a rapport with UM Facilities Management,” said Don Stanford, assistant director of the school’s Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and head of the Technical Services team. “They trust his judgment and advice. He doesn’t just report problems, he offers solutions.”

While Oglesby’s day-to-day tasks can vary, one constant exists.

“The School of Pharmacy has some of the best academic and research programs you will find, and my job is to do my part to ensure those programs and people experience the least disruptions possible from their work environment and the equipment they use each day,” Oglesby said. “If the day has gone smoothly for our faculty, researchers and staff, then I have had a successful day.”

Oglesby said that the most satisfying part about his job is his relationship with co-workers who have become like family.

“(My co-workers) have supported me and my family during some difficult times,” he said. “I know the school is the right fit for me and could not imagine working anywhere else.”

Stocks, Wilkin Share Their Vision for UM

Acting leaders plan to focus on maintaining university's momentum in enrollment, fundraising

Chancellor Morris Stocks and Acting Provost Noel Wilkin

Chancellor Morris Stocks and Acting Provost Noel Wilkin

OXFORD, Miss. – Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks and Acting Provost Noel Wilkin were recently thrust into short-term roles at the University of Mississippi, but they have a comprehensive vision for UM that includes continued enrollment growth, new financial contributions and a focus on faculty recruitment.

Stocks was UM’s provost when he was recently chosen by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning to be acting chancellor to replace outgoing Chancellor Dan Jones. Wilkin was serving as associate provost and professor of pharmacy administration and research professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences when he was named acting provost.

The UM Board Search Committee is looking for a new UM chancellor and expects to have one in place by early 2016. Stocks said the university will prosper during the six-to-eight-month interim period because its staff is strong and capable.

“I believe that our foundation for success is tremendously strong and I will, during my time of leadership, consistently remind our university of that,” Stocks said. “My extended and varied experience at the University of Mississippi, together with the good relationship I share with both the university’s leadership team and our IHL board, will keep us moving forward over the next several months.”

Stocks and Wilkin want to maintain momentum in enrollment, find new financial gifts from alumni and friends of the university, recruit in support of top faculty and staff, and secure research funds. They also want to continue to focus on athletics success, as well as the timely completion of buildings and other infrastructure to support the university’s growth.

“Each area contributes enormously to our reputation as one of our country’s leading universities, and I’m focused on making sure we’re delivering at the highest level in each area,” Stocks said.

In his 25-year career at UM, Stocks has been a full-time faculty member, associate provost, dean of the Patterson School of Accountancy, senior vice chancellor for planning and operations and UM provost. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Trevecca Nazarene University, a master’s degree in accounting from Middle Tennessee State University and a Ph.D. in accounting from the University of South Carolina.

When asked whether he would seek the chancellor’s job full-time, Stocks said he would like the opportunity to serve UM.

“Should our governing board ask me to serve as chancellor, I would consider it a high honor and would commit myself to moving this university forward on the very positive track we’ve enjoyed in recent years,” Stocks said. “If our board determines that there are more qualified candidates for the chancellor position, I will be just as committed to our university in whatever role I can be most helpful. I love the University of Mississippi and I say that without reservation. I am in my 25th year of service here, and I fully believe in our mission.”

The Oxford campus continues to come to terms with the departure of Jones, who is returning to the UM Medical Center to head up obesity research efforts. Stocks said he believes he can continue the university on a forward path in the wake of Jones’ departure. He calls Jones “a great leader and wonderful friend” who is excited about his new role with UMMC.

He also believes Jones would remind the UM community that Ole Miss is trending upward due to hard work by many people over the last several years. Most of those faculty and staff members and administrators are still working here, Stocks noted.

Stocks said Wilkin also plays an important role in the transition process, and he has the utmost faith in Wilkin’s abilities.

Wilkin, who has worked at UM since 1996, holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a Ph.D. in pharmacy administration, both from the University of Maryland. Wilkin noted that neither he nor Stocks chose to be acting chancellor and provost, but the situation shouldn’t be the focus of the university’s leadership team moving forward.

“It does not advance the important work we do by focusing on how we got here,” Wilkin said. “Instead, I hope every person on our campus will think about how they can use their skills and talents to achieve a new level of success.”

The transition period over the next six to eight months requires a strong focus on the university’s momentum, Wilkin said. That means continuing a strong commitment to student success by supporting the university’s faculty and continuing to improve existing programs.

“I plan to strengthen our commitment to graduate education, research and creative achievement,” Wilkin said. “The University of Mississippi’s greatest strength is its talented faculty and staff; our goals and successes are determined by the work of these individuals. I intend to look for ways to set us on a path toward bolstering our creation of new knowledge and the visibility of creative achievement.”

Wilkin said it would be a “disservice to the university” to try to carry out the duties of his former job while being acting provost. He intends to hire an interim associate provost to help ease the transition. Until one is on board, everyone in his office has increased their efforts and others have also stepped up to help out, he said.

Losing the university’s momentum is always a risk during an interim leadership period, but Wilkin notes there’s another reason for the sense of urgency he and Stocks share. Success during the transition makes the university attractive to a potential chancellor, and the university deserves the best candidate available, Wilkin said.

“No one wants to jump on a ship that isn’t sailing anywhere or one that is merely coasting along the shore,” Wilkin said. “Each person can play a role in attracting a new leader by doing the things that they do best and by looking for ways to make us an even better university.” 

Meet July’s Staff Member of the Month, Lionel E. Jones Jr.

Lionel Jones

Lionel Jones

Lionel E. Jones Jr., a property control auditor in the UM office of Procurement Services, has been selected as Staff Council’s Staff Member of the Month for July. To help us get to know him better, Jones answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss.

IOM: How long have you worked at Ole Miss?

Jones: 13 years.

IOM: What is your hometown?

Jones: New Orleans.

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss memory?

Jones: The people that I’ve gotten to know.

IOM: What do you enjoy most about your position or the department in which you work?

Jones: Meeting people.

IOM: What do you like to do when you are not at work?

Jones: Watch sports.

IOM: What is one thing on your bucket list?

Jones: To grow closer to God.

IOM: What is your favorite movie?

Jones: “Life.”

IOM: What is your favorite Ole Miss tradition?

Jones: Football.

IOM: What is a fun fact about you?

Jones: I love people.

IOM: What are three words you would use to describe yourself?

Jones: Fun, loving and peaceful.

IOM: If you could visit one time or place in world history (past, present or future), what would it be?

Jones: The Holy Land.

IOM: If I could be an animal for a day, I would be ____.

Jones: An eagle.

To nominate a colleague for the Staff Member of the Month, email with the name of the individual you’d like to nominate as well as why you feel he or she should be recognized.

Gray to Lead UM Health Professions Advising Office

Dr. Wayne Gray

Dr. Wayne Gray

OXFORD, Miss. – Dr. Wayne Gray, a University of Mississippi instructor of biology, has been named director of the university’s Health Professions Advising Office.

The office, in Martindale Student Services Center, provides students with information to guide them as they consider careers in the health profession. Gray, who joined the UM faculty in August 2014, said he is honored to help with the important job of guiding the next generation of his field.

“Our state and nation face health care challenges, including providing affordable health care for our diverse population and attacking problems like obesity, diabetes, cancer and infectious diseases,” Gray said. “It is exciting for the UM Health Professions Advising Office, along with the Ole Miss faculty and staff, to play an important role in preparing the next generation of health care providers to address these critical medical issues.”

Gray holds a bachelor’s degree from UM and a Ph.D. in medical sciences from the University of South Alabama Medical School. Before returning to Ole Miss, Gray spent 27 years at the University of Arkansas Medical School teaching medical and graduate students and conducting research in medical virology.

Gray is well suited for his new role, said Rich Forgette, interim dean of the UM College of Liberal Arts. 

“We welcome Dr. Wayne Gray as our next director of the Health Professions Advising Office,” Forgette said. “Dr. Gray is a scientist who has an extensive medical background. His research is in medical microbiology and virology. This background makes him a great selection for the director position.”

UM Again ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ Finalist

Chronicle of Higher Education surveys university employees nationwide, finds high satisfaction at Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. – Continuing to establish its reputation for employee satisfaction, the University of Mississippi has again been recognized as one of the nation’s “Great Colleges to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

University of Mississippi has again been recognized as one of the nation’s "Great Colleges To Work For" by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The University of Mississippi has again been recognized as one of the nation’s ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

UM was cited for excellence in three categories: collaborative governance, employee confidence in the university’s senior leadership and supervisor/department chair relationship. The Chronicle has recognized “Great Colleges to Work For” for the last eight years. UM has been recognized in seven of those years.

“The University is Mississippi is once again honored to be recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a ‘Great Place to Work For,'” said Clay Jones, UM assistant vice chancellor and director of human resources. “This repeated recognition validates our commitment to treat our employees in the fairest manner possible and also strengthens our resolve to continue to make improvements to our work environment. Our entire campus community is committed to continual advancements in all areas, which certainly include a better work place for all of our employees.”

UM’s repeated success is directly caused by its committed faculty and staff, who work hard to make the university a great place to work, said Noel Wilkin, interim provost.

“Every day, I interact with people who live our creed, who genuinely care about our success, and who use their talents to make our university one of the best in the world,” Wilkin said. “These efforts are reflected in this ranking.”

2015GCWF_4CsingularThe full results of the survey of employees at universities and colleges across America will be featured in the Chronicle’s Academic Workplace Special Issue, which debuted today on the Chronicle of Higher Education webpage. The print edition of the award recognition program will be published and mailed soon thereafter.

Earlier this year, the university participated in the survey, which is designed to recognize institutions that have built great workplaces. The surveys designed specifically for higher education were sent to a sample of each institution’s full-time faculty, administrators, and exempt and non-exempt staff.

Survey answers were submitted anonymously. Questionnaires were processed by ModernThink LLC, an independent third-party company.

The recognition comes at a time when many universities across the nation are dealing with budget struggles, while at the same time trying to keep tuition costs as low as possible for students. The head of the company that handled the Chronicle survey said those institutions that were able to keep employees happy during tough times deserve extra credit.

“It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner of ModernThink. “And those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

UM Professor One of 70 Ransom Center Fellows

Anne Quinney, a University of Mississippi professor of modern languages, has been selected as one of 70 Harry Ransom Center research fellows for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Anne Quinney

Anne Quinney

The Ransom Center, housed at the University of Texas at Austin, is a humanities research library and museum. During the fellowship, researchers will work on projects using the Ransom Center’s collection of manuscripts, books, photography, art and performing arts materials.

Quinney’s project examines the relationship between Nobel prize-winning author Albert Camus and his American publisher, Blanche Knopf.

“They had a unique friendship that developed over 15 years of correspondence, which The Ransom Centers now owns,” Quinney said. “Reading the letters between Camus and Blanche revealed to me the extent to which she controlled which works of Camus’ were translated, how he was marketed to the American public, and ultimately she was responsible, through her aggressive publicity efforts, for his winning the Nobel Prize. No one has really yet written about this aspect of Camus’ life or, in general, about the history of the reception of his work in this country.”

Quinney completed her fellowship this summer and will write about her findings during her sabbatical in Paris in the upcoming academic year.

“For all of her career, Anne Quinney has demonstrated through her work that she belongs to an elite group of researchers in her field of French literature,” said Donald Dyer, UM chair of modern languages. “Her selection this summer as a Harry Ransom Center Research Fellow is testament to her scholarship, and we in the Department of Modern Languages and the University of Mississippi community are extremely proud of this recognition.”


Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at UM Starts July 19

'Faulkner and Print Culture' boasts strong conference lineup

faulkner copy

The annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference will begin on Sunday, July 19, 2015 at the University of Mississippi.

OXFORD, Miss. — The University of Mississippi will host its annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference July 19-23 bringing scholars from all over the country to Oxford to discuss “Faulkner and Print Culture.”

The Nobel Prize winning author and Oxford resident William Faulkner, who also studied at UM, once said that he wished his epitaph would simply read, “He made the books and he died.” However, Jay Watson, UM Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies and professor of English, who is also the director of the conference, notes those works weren’t made by Faulkner alone. This year, scholars will explore how others helped the author’s work reach such a massive audience.

“Faulkner’s novels, stories and other works were never something he made alone,” Watson said. “They didn’t just appear full-blown, out of his head, as pure products of his genius. They were the work not only of their spectacularly talented author but of agents, editors, printers, artists and illustrators, graphic designers, marketing teams, publishing houses large and small, translators, critics, reviewers and, importantly, readerships.”

Rich Forgette, interim dean of the UM College of Liberal Arts, said the conference is a celebration of Faulkner’s influence.

“The College of Liberal Arts is proud to support the 2015 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, ‘Faulkner and Print Culture,'” Forgette said. “The conference is a celebration of Faulkner scholarship, as well as William Faulkner’s broad literary and cultural influence. We welcome all scholars, students and friends of Faulkner.”

Watson said this year’s topic has attracted a “particularly strong conference lineup.” Among the speakers are the literary biographer Carl E. Rollyson Jr., whose latest work is on Faulkner; Dartmouth Archivist and Book Historian Jay Satterfield; Erin A. Smith of the University of Texas, Dallas, who is an authority on working-class readers and popular literature; Greg Barnhisel, an expert on Cold War era print culture at Duquesne University; and Candace Waid, English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“This summer’s conference is an important opportunity for Faulkner critics, teachers and readers to delve more deeply into the collaborative networks and relationships that made it possible for Faulkner’s books to see the light of day as commodities and works of art,” Watson said.

Registration for this year’s conference begins Sunday, July 19, at 10 a.m. at the Yerby Conference Center. Many of the panel discussions will take place at Nutt Auditorium, while some other events will be held at Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak, as well as other sites around Oxford. A full list of the events can be found at this link

Faculty and Staff Permits Available July 22

The University of Mississippi faculty and staff parking permits will be available for purchase on July 22.

A regular faculty and staff hangtag will cost $160 for the year. Reserved parking spaces will cost $750. The Pavilion parking garage is now open, and 120 spaces remain of the 400 reserved for faculty and staff. A garage permit will cost $550 per year and guarantees a space in the garage.

Since the university is growing, some parking areas will be changing to accommodate that growth and more spaces will be added. Rebel Drive is under construction to be extended to Fraternity Drive and as a result, the parking lot at the Data Center will gain about 80 parking spaces. However, the parallel parking spaces along Rebel Drive will be eliminated to improve bus routes and offer the possibility of sidewalks and bike lanes.

The parking lot at the Tad Smith Coliseum will remain a faculty and staff parking area until the Pavilion is completed. When construction is completed, the spaces near the Turner Center will once again become faculty-staff parking, returning the Tad Smith parking area back to a commuter lot for students.

For more information, visit

Other Permit Costs

Daily Visitor – $3

Monthly Visitor – $45

Annual Visitor – $200

Satellite Residential – $100

Staff Low Option – $80

Vendor/Contractor – $135

Retiree – $60

Q&A: Meet Brett Harris, UM’s First Ombudsman

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has hired its first employee ombudsman, who will help the university build on its already strong reputation as one of the nation’s best places to work in higher education.

Brett Harris

Brett Harris

Brett Harris, who has worked as a mediator and attorney and more recently has been working as an organizational ombudsman in Idaho, will join the university July 13. Her post, which reports directly to the chancellor, was created to give employees a resource to mediate workplace conflicts or concerns and also help the university identify any systematic issues that may need addressing.

Harris said she’s thrilled about her new role to help employees at the university, which typically makes the annual Chronicle of Higher Education’s listing of “Great Colleges To Work For.”

“I loved everything about Ole Miss during my visit and I felt that this position was an ideal fit for me,” Harris said. “I have always wanted to serve as an ombudsperson at an organization that is already an excellent place to work and is genuine in its desire to ensure fair and effective dispute resolution for its employees. I believe Ole Miss also really tries to identify underlying problems to make the organization even better.”

Harris holds a bachelor’s degree from Idaho State University and a law degree from the University of Idaho College of Law. She and her husband, Wesley, have a 14-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son.

She answered a few questions for Inside Ole Miss to help the university community get to know her better.

IOM: Tell me about how you became interested in being an ombuds?

Harris: As I transitioned from being a mediator and attorney to working as an organizational ombuds, I found that the work fit my skills and interests. I enjoy the problem-solving aspects of the job. I like the variety of such a multifaceted position wherein I can be working one-on-one with someone on a very sensitive concern and then later looking for trends in data and doing research. I enjoy setting goals for a program and achieving those goals. I also find it to be meaningful and fulfilling work. An ombuds can identify organization-wide issues and effect change in an organization. I have always been driven to promote fairness and I believe in compromise. As a practicing attorney, I would often discuss the potential costs and benefits of litigation with the hope that my clients would choose mediation as a less stressful and less expensive path. Now that dispute resolution is my main professional focus, I have the pleasure of regularly seeing the relief that people experience when a conflict can be resolved or more effectively managed.

IOM: How did you get your start in that as a career?

Harris: I spent two years investigating high-conflict custody cases for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as part of my law degree emphasis in Native American law. This was the first of my experiences in crisis intervention, conflict management, investigating complex claims and promoting fairness of process for people from diverse backgrounds. I also completed basic and advanced mediation training and began mediating. Later, I became a mediation program director for the Idaho’s Seventh Judicial District Courts, training and supervising area mediators and managing all aspects of the courts’ mediation programs. I also worked as an attorney and gained experienced in employment law. This mix of legal experience, mediation experience and program management experience led to mediating employment issues and working as an organizational ombuds.

IOM: Not to make you brag or put you on the spot, but what are some of the qualities you possess that you think make you good at your job?

 Harris: I think I’m well suited for this role because I am analytical and empathetic. I can relate to people’s concerns and I take those concerns seriously. I am also a natural problem solver and I enjoy exploring different options in search of a solution. I like to think I am a great active listener and I strive to understand people’s needs and viewpoints. Finally, I’m not uncomfortable with conflict. I think of conflict as a natural part of life and I’m honored to be in a role where I am trusted to assist in handling these issues.

IOM: What is about working on a college campus that appeals to you?

Harris: College campuses are busy and exciting places. As a student, I enjoyed everything that my campus had to offer and I am looking forward to experiencing sporting events, guest speakers and music events as an employee at Ole Miss. From a professional prospective, universities are dynamic organizations with such a variety of people and perspectives. Universities are usually on the forefront of research and change. I can’t think of a more interesting place to work as an ombuds.

IOM: What does an ombuds officer do and not do and what services can your office provide?

Harris: An ombuds assists individuals within an organization with workplace-related conflicts or concerns and also assists the organization as a whole in identifying systemic issues that need to be fixed.

To assist individuals, an ombuds can assist in interpreting policies, provide information regarding different grievance options, generate options for managing conflict, provide coaching on workplace issues, mediate disputes and help visitors to the office find other resources they need. By tracking these individual issues – in a way that eliminates identifying information and maintains confidentiality – an ombuds can make recommendations that help the organization improve workplace climate, reduce loss of valued employees, prevent workplace bullying and other harm to employees, and reduce costs associated with more formal grievance channels.

An ombuds office is not an office of record, so if a visitor wants to document a complaint, the ombuds will direct the visitor elsewhere. An ombuds will not serve as an arbitrator or decision-maker for a dispute, nor will an ombuds serve as an advocate for any party, although an ombuds may serve as an advocate for fairness of process.

IOM: Some people may have trouble talking about any conflicts they have with other people, given that even acknowledging those conflicts can exacerbate the tension. Do both sides in a dispute become involved in the ombudsman process?

Harris: Not always. Sometimes visitors come in to talk about their concern and perhaps they just request some feedback in terms of interpreting a policy or figuring out what options are available for handling the issue. There are plenty of ways the office can assist without ever getting the other party involved. On the other hand, mediation, group facilitation and other processes that involve working with the other party can be highly effective in many circumstances. The office offers those options as well.

IOM: What are some of the guiding principles for the ombuds process?

Harris: The main guiding principles of an ombudsperson program are confidentiality, impartiality, independence and informality. This means that the office is a place to go to discuss concerns without fear of retaliation, formal record or other complications that can sometimes occur when an employee discusses a concern with a supervisor or files a formal complaint.

IOM: What principles guide you and the ombuds process?

Harris: First and foremost, I function under the principle of promoting fairness and respect. I also believe in the self-determination of the visitor, meaning that I respect the visitor’s wishes in regards to how to proceed. I will offer suggestions and options for handling an issue, but I don’t tell people what actions they must take and I don’t take any steps without their approval. The only exception is the rare circumstance in which an ombuds determines that there is a serious risk of harm to someone and that intervention of some sort is necessary.

I also adhere to the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice, requiring that an ombuds maintain the confidentiality of the visitor and the complaint, operate independently and without influence from the rest of the organization, and serve without bias. I strive to adhere to the International Ombudsman Association Best Practices as well. I am pleased that the University of Mississippi supports this office’s adherence to these practices.

IOM: What are the best means to contact you and discuss any problem that may arise?

Harris: It is best to call the office and schedule an appointment. Visitors are also welcome to stop by the office anytime but I may be helping another person or out of the office. I prefer not to be contacted by email by anyone who wishes to keep their identity confidential since I cannot guarantee confidentiality of email communications. Any person who does contact the office through email should limit the contents of the email to scheduling an appointment. For any non-confidential type of business, such as requesting outreach for your office or department, email is an excellent way to contact the office.

IOM: What is about Ole Miss that drew you here from Idaho?

Harris: I was initially drawn to Ole Miss because it is a large, diverse organization with a top-notch reputation. After spending time at Ole Miss, I was delighted to find that the organization is filled with exceptional people, the campus is beautiful and the city of Oxford has so much to offer. I am looking forward to experiencing life in Mississippi and becoming part of the Ole Miss community.

IOM: Moving away from the professional stuff, what are your hobbies, your interests?

Harris: I spend my time reading, cooking, traveling, hiking and exploring the outdoors, and cheering on my children at their various events. I also enjoy any kind of community or cultural event. Live music and sandy beaches are also on my list of favorite things, and I am happy to know that Mississippi has both of these to offer.

IOM: Tell me about your family.

Harris: My husband and I have a 14-year-old daughter who enjoys cheerleading and dance, a 9-year-old daughter who plays soccer and golf, and a 3-year-old son. My husband has served in the Air Force and Army as a medic for over 16 years and he works full-time as a registered nurse. He is an avid fisherman and outdoorsman and he keeps our family active and doing exciting things. We have lived in Idaho since our kids were born, so this will be an exciting change. We are all looking forward to a warmer winter season and a chance to visit the coast on a more regular basis.

IOM: What is your timeline for starting?

Harris: I will begin in mid-July. During the first couple of weeks, I will be establishing the office’s policies and procedures, creating the website and office documents, developing the office’s official charter agreement and networking with people on campus. I plan to have the office ready for visitors by the beginning of August.

IOM: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the Ole Miss community?

Harris: I am so very pleased to be joining the Ole Miss community. It is my goal to be highly visible and accessible so that faculty, staff and graduate students will utilize this office and find it to be a valuable resource on campus. I will be making the rounds to introduce myself to all the departments and offices within the first few months and I am so excited to meet people and share more about what this exciting new program has to offer the Ole Miss community.