VCU’s new ombudsman has open door
Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009
His voice is soft and calming.
“An asset and a limitation, depending on how people see it,” said Frank Baskind, Ph.D.
As VCU’s new ombudsperson – he was appointed July 1, 2008 – Baskind’s voice, either on the phone or in person, is one of the first impressions people have of him. Baskind’s voice, soft all his life, conveys a sense of sincerity and makes him approachable, key qualities for building rapport.
From Jan. 1, 1992, until June 30, 2008, Baskind served as dean of the School of Social Work, which is ranked 14th nationally by U.S. News & World Report. He won a Bronze Star in Vietnam and finished out a 21-year career in the Army Reserves as a lieutenant colonel in Civil Affairs.
Baskind said those experiences, and his long career in the academic world at three public universities, have given him the capacity to connect with people at every level.
The provost’s office established the ombudsperson position in 2006, and Baskind is the second person to occupy the post.
"VCU's employees and post-doctoral students are quite fortunate to have Dr. Baskind, an individual of great integrity, to serve on their behalf as ombudsperson. Not only is he a scholar with expertise in the field of Social Work, he is kind, confident and thoroughly professional," Provost Stephen D. Gottfredson said.
Dan Ream, president of the Faculty Senate, said the senate advocated filling the position when former Ombudsperson Donna Brodd retired and was pleased that Baskind had been appointed.
“I believe the highest service an ombudsperson can provide is to help people feel they’re being understood,” Baskind said.
Since he has been in the job, Baskind has found that the purpose of the office is sometimes misconstrued. Too often people mistakenly regard the office of the ombudsperson as the place where problems are solved, he said. But an ombudsperson is neutral and does not render judgments or make decisions on issues brought to the office.
“It is a safe setting to talk, to think out loud, to share some concerns – to find out how to respond to concerns or how to navigate the university and how the system can help people move forward with their concerns,” Baskind said.
The other part of his position, he said, is to assist others to identify issues before they percolate into problems.
When people call, one of the first requests Baskind makes of them is to view the Web site of the ombudsperson to familiarize themselves with the specific duties of the office.
Above all, Baskind said, the ombudsperson follows the Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsperson Association that focuses on confidentiality and being neutral and impartial and independent of the judicial and grievance procedures of the university.
Baskind’s office, in room 5151 of Harris Hall, is simply furnished and — on uncloudy days — sunlit. He wants it to be an inviting space for people to come.
Even before the provost sent out a message to the university announcing his appointment, Baskind said the phone in his office was ringing, ringing.
“People have not come in here mean and angry,” he said. “They have come in wanting to know what to do, because they care about what they do.”