UNC Hires Ombudsperson to Provide Faculty and Staff a New Resource on Campus
June 28, 2022
The University of Northern Colorado is restoring a former staff position intended to further foster an environment where faculty and staff feel supported personally and professionally to develop an enriching experience for UNC students. This position – an ombudsperson – has not existed at the university for the last two decades-plus, until now, with the recent addition of Johnny Armijo to serve in this role.
As the university’s ombudsperson, Armijo will offer a neutral, confidential place for faculty and staff to bring up any concerns. He will help individuals clarify their interests and goals, understand and weigh their options and develop strategies for handling difficult situations independently from Human Resources and UNC administration.
“I’m looking forward to being the driving mechanism in solving conflicts so that people can be happy in their position at the university, and they enjoy collaborating and working with one another,” Armijo said.
Armijo arrived at UNC at the beginning of June. He’s spent his first couple of weeks reaching out to faculty and staff in different departments to let them know about his services. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s been amazing how people say they are so glad that I’m here,” Armijo said. “It kind of scared me at first, I wondered why people were so glad. Is there a lot of conflict? And that really wasn’t the case at all, it was more of the idea of me being here excited others.”
Armijo will report directly under President Andy Feinstein. The two will meet monthly to discuss any trends in reporting of issues or concerns that Armijo is seeing, or problem areas in existing policies and practices. Though, no personal information will be shared.
“I am excited to have Johnny join the university community as our ombudsperson,” said Feinstein. “Johnny is well-qualified for this position and will be a tremendous resource for our faculty and staff. It is important that we have a clear avenue for our employees to express any concerns they have, and Johnny will provide a safe space for our employees to do so confidentially. As we continue to prioritize providing a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus, the addition of Johnny in the ombudsperson role will certainly support these efforts.”
Armijo earned his master’s degree in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 2012. He spent the last nine years teaching while serving as a first sergeant for the US Air Force Reserve. Armijo says both of those roles have molded him into a master in conflict resolution.
“My role as an ombudsperson is similar to my role in the Air Force particularly,” Armijo said. “People come to me with any kind of conflict they’re facing, whether it’s with the supervisor or Air Force in general. I’m responsible for the morale and welfare of all the enlisted members, so I have a lot of practice in mediation and solving problems.”
For Armijo, the first step in providing guidance is listening.
“That is my number one thing,” Armijo said. “Providing a safe space for faculty and staff to discuss any grievance is sometimes all they need. They just need to say it out loud to come to their own conclusions on the next steps they want to take.”
Creating the ombudsperson position showcases the university’s continuous pursuit of providing a desirable place to work and acknowledges the importance of faculty and staff feeling their contributions are valued. To be successful in that, Armijo says focusing on fairness in his role will be essential.
“If someone comes to me with a complaint, I am not necessarily going to be an advocate for them, I'm going to be an advocate for making sure that what happens is fair for everyone at the university,” Armijo said.
With fairness at the forefront, Armijo hopes faculty and staff will be motivated to use him as a reliable resource.
“The confidence that people have in coming to me and telling me how they are feeling is something that I hold true,” Armijo said. “That’s the whole value of an ombudsperson, it’s someone you can go to and know that what is talked about will not be discussed with anyone else.”
Along with assisting in resolution, Armijo will be holding trainings to teach individuals how to handle conflict positively.
“That way I will not only help solve problems but also prevent them from coming up,” Armijo said.
Armijo’s office is located in the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion building (1862 10th Ave). Faculty and staff with any concerns can walk in without an appointment, call Armijo at 970-351-1367 or email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m really hoping people will not be afraid of conflict and not think of conflict as a bad word, but think of it as a growing opportunity,” Armijo said. “An opportunity to collaborate and compromise and be able to do what is best for the university, as well as what’s best with the relationship between one another.”
– written by Sydney Kern