Tucked away in a corner office on the second floor of the Alkek Building in room 205 is Baylor’s new ombuds, Laurel Hyle. It’s actually a perfect location, offering privacy – one of the foundations of the new office at the College – yet with an open-door policy.
The Ombuds Office is a confidential place where students, trainees, faculty and staff can go to discuss concerns, resolve disputes, manage conflicts and improve communication skills.
“My office may be off the beaten path, but I encourage the Baylor community to drop by to say hi and to learn about the new ombuds role at the College,” Hyle said.
She recognizes that one of the first things she must do in her new role at Baylor is explain just what an ombuds is. Ombudsman is a Scandinavian word, essentially meaning representative. At Baylor, the ombuds will act as a neutral party, advocating for equality in the workplace and learning environment.
It’s different from other resources at Baylor, such as the Center for Professionalism in Medicine, the Integrity Hotline or the human resources department, because it’s an informal office. Hyle can serve as a mediator, a facilitator or just a listening ear and provide resources and information, but she cannot take a formal complaint.
“Using the Ombuds Office doesn’t preclude you from accessing other Baylor processes or from making a formal complaint,” Hyle emphasizes. “But sometimes when there is a situation in the workplace or in the education realm, people just want someone to talk to about it, and they may or may not decide to take any formal action.”
Baylor faculty, staff and students may use the Ombuds Office for a variety of reasons. Some of these include interpersonal conflict or misunderstandings with a colleague, leader, classmate or educator, academic concerns of learners or educators and issues surrounding publication or intellectual property.
There are certain services the office cannot provide. The ombuds at Baylor cannot provide legal advice or accept any kind of formal notice for the College. The ombuds doesn’t make binding decisions or keep any records.
The confidentiality of the office is paramount to Hyle. She keeps a “nice, big” shredder in her office and cautions against use of email to communicate with her. “I take confidentiality and lack of records very seriously,” she said.
She will however report statistics, such as how many visits there were to her office annually and what percentage were faculty, staff or students. In addition, if she notices a trend, like a College policy that people don’t understand or that they feel is unfair, she will take those issues to College leadership.
Eventually, Hyle would like to offer workshops and presentations on topics such as conflict de-escalation, effective communications and dispute resolution, possibly in conjunction with the Center for Professionalism.
Hyle brings more than 20 years of experience in the areas of law, business, higher education, academic medicine, ethics, healthcare, public health and more, along with extensive dispute resolution experience.
“I’m enjoying being a part of the Baylor family and excited that I have the opportunity to blend my past experience together,” she said. “My goal for the Ombuds Office is that everyone knows this resource is available and feels welcome to access it.”