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Duke Names First University-Wide Ombudsperson to Head Expanded Office

Jessica Kuchta-Miller comes from Washington University with experience in navigating conflicts

Jessica Kuchta-Miller
Jessica Kuchta-Miller brings university experience in helping community members navigate concerns.

Jessica Kuchta-Miller, currently serving as the staff ombuds at Washington University in St. Louis, has been named the first full-time university ombudsperson at Duke, President Vincent Price announced this week. She will start at Duke on Nov. 7.

The hiring marks an important expansion for the ombuds function at Duke by establishing a central Office of the Ombuds that will serve faculty, staff and students.  In the new role, Kuchta-Miller will serve as ombuds for the university’s faculty and staff and oversee an office that will include a full-time professional ombuds for students and a second, part-time ombuds who currently serves medical school students and trainees. She will report directly to President Price.

The expansion of responsibilities for the new position was supported by a faculty-administrator working group last year that followed a 2015 report from the Academic Council’s Diversity Task Force, which recommended the university clarify the responsibilities and enhance resources for an organizational ombuds at Duke.

“I am thrilled that Jessica Kuchta-Miller will be our inaugural university-wide ombudsperson,” Price said. “As an ombuds at Washington University in St. Louis, Jessica has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, serving the university as a trusted and confidential resource to help community members navigate a range of issues. I am confident Jessica will continue her record of excellence here at Duke and help us build a healthier, more vibrant and more inclusive community.”

An ombuds is a designated neutral who facilitates the informal resolution of individual, group and systemic concerns according to the Standards of Practice set forth by the International Ombuds Association. Ombuds help deal productively with conflict and serve as trusted navigators when community members face challenges and opportunities.  Moreover, ombuds supplement but do not replace existing avenues on campus for dispute resolution, such as the Office of Institutional Equity, the Faculty Hearing Committee or Human Resources.

“What attracts me to and impresses me about this position at Duke is the time, thought and care that has been invested in re-imagining the ombuds role as a community-wide resource that will supplement the university's initiatives to support a healthy, vibrant, inclusive and -- I'll add -- conflict-competent community,” Kuchta-Miller said.

“When differences in wants, needs and perspectives are managed constructively, it enhances engagement, encourages collaboration, increases understanding and creates an environment conducive to working and learning. The ombuds office will offer a confidential, impartial, informal and independent channel for faculty, staff and students to seek information, voice University-related concerns, clarify goals, explore options, and navigate challenging situations.  We’re here to listen.”

Kuchta-Miller’s hiring completes a process that faculty have followed and worked on closely for many years. Erika Weinthal, chair of the Academic Council, said the faculty was supportive of clarifying the role of the ombuds position and that the new office will help the entire university community.

“The creation of university-wide ombuds office with permanent staff means that the ombuds will not only serve faculty and students, but for the first time also offer the services of the ombuds to Duke University staff,” Weinthal said.

Kuchta-Miller was selected following a national search by a faculty-administrator committee chaired by Dr. Ann Brown, vice dean for the faculty at the School of Medicine.

“We had outstanding candidates for this position, all of whom were experienced and impressed with the thought that went into creating this new office,” Brown said. “I am excited to welcome Jessica Kuchta-Miller to the Duke community and to support her in developing the new ombuds office.”

Kuchta-Miller is a licensed attorney with an extensive background in Alternative Dispute Resolution and also holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology.  She is an active member of IOA and served recently on the Board of Directors, as co-chair of the Government and Policy committee and as a member of the Standards of Practice Task Force.  She currently serves as IOA’s primary representative to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education.  She has presented at leading conferences and has trained hundreds of individuals in mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution and communication skills.

Prior to serving as the inaugural staff ombuds at Washington University, she served as associate university ombuds at the University of Colorado Boulder, working with staff, students and faculty. Previously Kuchta-Miller worked at Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. as an adjunct clinical professor and a project administrator for its nationally ranked Dispute Resolution Institute.