New ombuds to focus on atmosphere, education
The University of Louisville has turned to a nationally known expert on mediation and dispute resolution to head its Office of the Ombuds.
Tony Belak joined the university in that role earlier this month. He takes the reins from English professor Dennis Hall, who served as ombuds on an interim basis beginning in January 2009.
Belak has had little time to adjust to his new surroundings.
"It's been busy," he said of his first weeks in office. "We're going faster and faster every day."
Not that he's complaining.
Noting that his post was established in response to recommendations resulting from abusive behavior by a former UofL education dean, Belak said the campus environment — like other large organizations — is ripe for conflict.
"Health care and education are among the highest areas for bullying," he said, adding that such areas also are fertile ground for growing positive programs.
"There is a need to be heard, a need for involvement, a need for discussion," he said. Early efforts from his office will include mediation training and programs on improving listening skills.
Belak is uniquely qualified to teach these skills.
Previously, he served as executive director of the International Center for Collaborative Solutions at Sullivan University, where he also taught in the Master of Science in conflict management program.
His lengthy resume includes terms as senior dispute resolution counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and as founder and past president of the Federal ADR Council Inc., a nonprofit shared neutral mediation project for federal agencies in Kentucky and Indiana.
Belak also is past two-term chair of the Louisville Bar Association ADR/Mediation Section, past president of the Mediation Association of Kentucky and president of the Kentucky Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association.
He has taught conflict resolution at UofL's Brandeis School of Law and at the Indiana University Southeast College of Business. He has taught seminars on the subject throughout the United States and in Europe.
Belak said he feels that his background will serve him well as he helps faculty and staff work through conflicts.
But he emphasized that his role will be more than that of a mediator. He is much more excited about his roles as an educator, a facilitator and an advocate for a campuswide effort "to get folks listening to each other."
The ombuds office provides informal and confidential dispute resolution services for faculty and staff, advises employees about policies and procedures and can recommend steps to resolve disputes. When appropriate, the ombuds can direct employees to other resources or offices, such as faculty and staff grievance officers, for more formal resolution.
Although individual complaints are dealt with confidentially, the ombuds can point out patterns of problems/complaints to administrators.
Faculty and staff can call Belak at 852-7359. All contacts with the Ombuds Office are confidential.