The East Sider

Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg Resolves to Help People Find a Way Forward

Addressing issues before they become a greater problem within the working environment

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Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg, a native of England, resides on the East Side and serves Brown University as its ombudsperson.

Tell me a bit about what you do as Brown’s ombudsperson?
I provide a confidential resource to faculty, staff and post-doctoral and graduate students. They can talk about anything to do with their [lives] at Brown. People come for information about how policies are implemented and to have a thinking partner about difficult conversations. Grad students come about advisors; advisors come about grad students. People come about power relationships, tenure...

What attributes do you possess that help you in your work?
I listen really well. Often people come with a mess – a big ball of string – and I can help pull out the strands and then they can look at the problem. Usually, you can’t fix everything, but you can find a way forward. I think I’m good at helping people listen to and hear each other. I can help people navigate the system... and give them perspective.

What value do you offer Brown?
It’s hard to show value when you’re preventing [problems] ... there’s a value in that the University cares about its people enough to have a resource where they can come and feel safe to talk. I get thanked every day for that. People [can] deal with problems at a lower level before they escalate.

You’ve explained that you have no decision-making authority. Is that frustrating?
No. I like it. There’s power in asking questions and putting things on the table.

Are there other organizations that use ombuds?
I haven’t found anyone else in Rhode Island. Many universities, companies like Coca-Cola and the New York Times, all federal agencies and many state and municipal agencies in California have them. It’s happening more and more. I’d love to know [if there are ombuds here]; I’d love some colleagues locally. I think every large organization – hospital systems, municipalities, corporations, schools, – should have ombuds.

We all know that people are dysfunctional. Are organizations destined to be dysfunctional, too?
No, [some] organizations have a culture that makes it possible for people to function really well. It’s important that people strive for that; that should be the goal.

Visit Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg at brown.edu/ombudsperson