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New ombuds is eager to help W&M community

  • New university ombuds:
    New university ombuds:  Mark Patterson, who retired after 24 years of service as a military lawyer, is William & Mary’s new university ombuds.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Mark Patterson took the part he enjoyed from being a military lawyer and made it his next career step.

Patterson started as William & Mary’s new university ombuds Jan. 4 and said he’s looking forward to making the role as effective for the university and its employees as possible. The ombuds office serves as a neutral party in resolving a variety of conflicts and is designed to help employees sort out their options.

“I think what will serve me best as an ombudsman is an ability to think around problems,” Patterson said.

He retired in 2016 as a colonel after 24 years as an Air Force judge advocate, going on to obtain a Master’s of Law in international dispute resolution and an organizational ombudsman Foundations certificate from the International Ombudsman Association. 

Acknowledging that lawyers are charged with arguing one side of an issue, Patterson pointed out that in the military he was often working on a variety of issues within the organization. He added that the part he liked about the job was helping people solve problems and that many former lawyers who tire of the adversarial process go on to work in mediation-type fields.

“With the variety of jobs I got to do, serving our country and serving as a JAG, it sort of forced me to be cross-disciplinary in my thinking, to analyze things from multiple angles and to be comfortable with the diversity of cultures and peoples and backgrounds that are part of a university campus,” Patterson said. “It’s the same thing when you’re serving in the military.

“They try to be as broad and inclusive as possible recruiting. And also when you live overseas, you experience a lot of different outlooks. So I think those two things will serve me well — the way of thinking around problems creatively and handling diversity of culture.”

He was particularly attracted to the mediation aspect.

“Sometimes you can do a lot more where the parties control their own process,” Patterson said. “That sense of autonomy, taking care of your own problems, feels good to me,” Patterson said. “That’s what I like.”

Tatia Granger, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, served as W&M university ombuds from its inception in 2008 until Patterson took over. The ombuds functions to support more open and effective communication between employees and the university, providing a confidential and neutral person to listen to employees, serve as a neutral party in resolving conflict, present resources and options, offer communication coaching, recommend changes in policies and procedures to appropriate campus units and report trends and patterns to administration.

Patterson stressed that all conversations are confidential and gave examples of the things people might come in to discuss. They include supervisor and subordinate relationships in dealing with evaluations, coworker relationships, navigating the tenure process, concerns about an employee’s physical environment, work hours or schedule or topics that are more broad.

“They can talk to me without feeling like I’ll need to then report it to somebody else or will have a stake in the particular outcome,” Patterson said.

He can help by asking questions to assist an employee work through a problem, requesting additional information anonymously on behalf of an employee and passing along concerns to departments. If an employee consents, he can also serve as a mediator between parties.

The idea is to always give the same help, service and support to all parties equally.

“I am neutral that way, but I’m also passionate about a fair process and about the university being successful,” Patterson said. “So I can kind of do both things. I don’t have to be tied to one side and limited in my effectiveness that way. But I also can be passionate about fairness and the system working the best it can.”

A huge fan of helping people manage proactively, Patterson also will be working with human resources and other groups on campus in the area of conflict avoidance.

“I look forward to opportunities to help look ahead to being more effective in dealing with the conflicts, rather than waiting for them to come to me all the time,” he said.