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Rao to assume role as ombuds officer

The University ombuds search committee appointed Anu Rao to a three-year term as ombuds officer starting July 1. Rao served as the interim ombuds officer last year from June through December.

Rao's appointment is the result of the committee's nationwide search for former ombuds officer Wilbur Hicks' replacement. Hicks left his post last June after accepting a similar position with Shell Oil Company in Texas.

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The ombuds office handles dispute resolution for administrative and support staff. It also monitors guidelines for racial and ethnic harassment, providing information about campus resources regarding these situations.

Rao has served as the University's director of training and organizational development from 1988 to 1992. She is currently an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College.

"I really enjoyed working at the ombuds office," Rao said. "(After leaving the office) I missed the direct contact with students and colleagues as well as the hands-on work."

Rao said she wants to "increase the visibility and the availability of the ombuds office and create a climate of enhanced respect where matters can be resolved within the intellectual community."

She added that frequent changes in leadership have caused the office "to recede from Princeton's cultural memory."

Interim work, goals

Rao's work over the summer dealt mainly with mediation training for staff and human resources personnel, but she added that there was also "a steady stream of graduates and undergraduates."

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Rao said she recalls a number of specific cases she dealt with while serving in her interim post. "I did mediation work with a staff member who said he felt his problem was substantively better – up to 75-percent better," she said.

Rao added that "no one can work miracles," but said she felt it was important to "know how people have experienced working with the office."

As ombuds officer, Rao said she hopes to expand the office's involvement with students and to encourage more feedback.

"After all," Rao said, "the office is there to serve the people of the community."

Search, reform

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Associate Provost Joann Mitchell led the ombuds search committee with Associate Provost Georgia Nugent '73. Mitchell said in the future Princeton will examine the role of the ombuds office and look for "more efficient ways to deploy its resources."

"We're taking a holistic approach. The ombuds office isn't the only helping institution the University will be looking at," Mitchell said.

Rao will serve as the ombuds officer for the next three years, but Mitchell said organizational restructuring may change the nature of her office.

"We just want to make sure that there is adequate resource deployment without unnecessary duplication," Mitchell said. She added that feedback from other mediation offices would be crucial in "pulling the team together."

Rao said one possible improvement might involve an assessment of the program's utility. "I would like to gather data from people who use the system. A lot of the information is confidential, but it would be helpful to know how these disputes get resolved," Rao said.

Rao has a bachelor of science degree and a master's degree in social work from Bangalore University in India. She also holds a second master's in social work and a doctorate in city and regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

Rao worked as director of social services at the the University of Pennsylvania's School of Dental Medicine, as director of child welfare at their School of Social Work and as director of their Center for Workplace Studies.