We all play a part in creating a safer and healthier work and study climate at our University. Within the existing support structure, confidential advisor Marjolein Renker and ombudsperson Carolijn Winnubst hold unique positions. So who are they, what drives them, and, most importantly, what do they have in common and what are the differences between them?
‘We are here for staff members and students, for those reporting and for bystanders. Issues we deal with include unacceptable behaviour, unequal treatment, problems arising in the working or learning environment, and structural wrongdoings’, explains Marjolein from her office at Visserstraat 47. Next to her sits Carolijn, whose independent office is located at Oude Boteringestraat 71: ‘I believe our positions complement each other really well.’
Marjolein has held the position of confidential advisor since 2017 and, from her position as project leader, Carolijn has been taking on the role of independent ombudsperson since September 2021.
After completing her studies at the University of Amsterdam, Carolijn worked as a registered mediator under the Mediator Federation Netherlands (MfN), as a lawyer, and as a degree programme manager. She has gained a wealth of experience supervising and advising on complicated issues involving very diverse interests. Carolijn: ‘Integrity and fairness are the most important core values for me.’
Marjolein graduated from the University of Groningen with a degree in Human Resources and has held various consultancy positions at the UG and elsewhere, at the interface of employees and organizations. She finds it important that people who experience problems in their work or studies can share their concerns in a safe space that is separate from the organization. She aims to offer a welcoming and safe space, different viewpoints, and confidentiality. Because ultimately, we all want to enjoy working and studying.
Within the UG, both the confidential advisor and the ombudsperson fulfil their various duties completely independently. This means that in the performance of their duties, they are not subordinate to any of the University’s administrative authorities. The only accountability they have is to submit an annual report of their duties to the Board of the University, and to send a copy to the University Council, the Local Consultative Committee, and the Supervisory Board. Both positions guarantee confidentiality.
With what issues can you approach Marjolein or Carolijn, as a student or staff member?
Marjolein: ‘As the confidential advisor, I offer individual and independent support in situations relating to unacceptable behaviour and in conflicts regarding collaboration or conflicts in the workplace. I am there to support the person reporting the conflict and will only take action with permission from the individual involved. You are also welcome if you simply need a place to vent.'
'I can also accompany you to a meeting that you are nervous about, or help a person reporting a problem to inform their supervisor about the issue. If you are a bystander, please also feel free to contact me. I know how to respond to issues raised by staff members and students about safety and dissatisfaction and who to approach in the organization. My responsibilities also include providing information about unacceptable behaviour and prevention. Those conversations are always confidential,’ says Marjolein.
What about Carolijn? ‘What I can offer as an ombudsperson is different from the individual support offered by the confidential advisor. As an impartial and objective third party, I identify trends, patterns, and other bottlenecks that could have a negative impact on a healthy study and working environment. I am open for any reporter or bystander to approach me and feel comfortable sharing unacceptable situations with me. In reviewing regulations or policy, undesirable bottlenecks may also come to light. I also focus on awareness about how to eliminate, resolve, and prevent undesirable situations. I do this by providing guidance and advice on request and at my own initiative. In doing so, I hope to increase learning capacity and contribute to an inclusive organization.’
Both Carolijn and Marjolein emphasize that despite the differences in their roles, it doesn’t matter which one of them you turn to. Marjolein: ‘The most important thing is that you get help if something is bothering you.’ Carolijn: ‘Let us know, and you’re a hero! If we think it’s necessary, we will refer the persons reporting/bystanders to another branch within the existing support structure. We can even provide a summary of our records to the person we are referring you to, in order to avoid you having to relive your experience again and again.’
In February 2022, Carolijn submitted her findings of her first 100 days as ombudsperson to the University of Groningen. As she states in this report, you can visit her during office hours or call or email her. Marjolein can be reached by email or telephone.
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