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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
Volume 3, Number 3, May 2003

An Application of The
Transactional View: A Unique
Role for Ombudsmen In
Campus Protest

Observer Program Policies

Observers are required to use only paper and pen when making observations. Recording devices and cameras are forbidden due to safety reasons. Special identification tags have been created by the campus police department for observers' use during demonstrations. The coordinator of the observer program works closely with the police department to ensure the safety of the observers. Observers are allowed access to any place that protesters and police are unless it is deemed unsafe by the police. Observers are for the most part silent. They do not engage in discussion with either police or protesters except to properly identify themselves and to answer questions about the observer program.

Access to Reports

To enhance the integrity of the observer program, requests for reports are submitted, in writing, to the adminstrator managing them. The person requesting the report(s) must demonstrate a "need to know" and specify the time and location of the incident in question. For example, if a grievance has been filed against a police officer for excess force and the incident occurred on Monday afternoon at 3:00, near-the fountain outside x building, the request should specify that all observer reports around this time and location be provided. The definition of "need to know" is broad and can apply to students, staff, faculty, police otficers, and community members. Reports are kept in a confidential file.

Use of the Observer Program

While the observer program was initially created to serve potentially volatile campus demonstrations (CIA recruiting on campus, divestment in South Africa) the concept has creatively been used in other ways. Observers were asked to walk lines during a recent registration disaster where students were waiting up to 10-12 hours to drop and add classes. Observers recently watched a crowd of 3,000 which was listening to Jesse Jackson and other political speakers. The program has gained the respect of the University community and will continue as a group of well trained staff who can quickly provide a neutral perspective when needed on campus.


Hastorf, A. and Cantril, H. (1954). They say a game: A case study. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49, 129-134.

Tibbetts, P. & Esser, A. (1973). Transactional structures in man-environment relations. Man-Environment Systems, 3(6), 441-468.

Editor's note: Susan Hobson-Panico has just completed her Ph.D. in Education and Human Resource Studies. She served as the Ombudsman for the University of Colorado at Boulder at the time this piece was written. She has 24 years experience as a college ombudsman and administrator.


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