Character: UW ombudsman is always ready to lend an ear

Ombudsman is Swedish for “the people’s advocate.” In 1968, the UW became one of the nation’s first universities to appoint an Ombud. Chuck Sloane looks forward to being part of a long legacy. “Every person who’s held the office has retired in it. I tell people that we have plenty of time to get to know each other!”

An Ombud is always on call. “I went to dinner with a friend who was trying to figure out how to approach a new work responsibility. We were talking and I realized it was very similar to my work meetings. I kept thinking: I need my notepad!”

“I love The Idiot.” Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a favorite during Sloane’s time as a UW English and psychology student. “I enjoy reading and love the idea of taking in another person’s perspective and lived experience.”

A first-generation college graduate, Sloane’s parents included him in mature conversations as a young adult. “It was a primer for parts of my career. I work with folks of all ages and backgrounds. I’m comfortable sitting with them and genuinely listening and figuring out the situation.”

“It’s like having a friend or relative that whenever you talk to them, your situation becomes a little clearer and by the end you have a better plan for what to do next. Our office kind of does that by helping folks clarify their situation and goals.”

Sloane constructed his current office desk with his own two hands. He learned woodworking as a college student. The desk is a solid piece of Douglas fir atop legs that are repurposed ladders from UW’s former Terry and Lander Halls. You don’t see that everyday.

“Coming back to campus after more than a decade, the word that comes to mind is luxurious. It’s even prettier than I remember. You can wander, have conversations and consider life’s next steps.”

The UW is more than a career choice. Sloane, ’01, and his wife met as students in a UW geology class. On bended knee, he proposed to her in the same Johnson Hall classroom a decade later.

One of many creative pronunciations Sloane hears is “Ombuttersman.” He’s more interested in getting word out about services than the word itself. The office serves all three academic campuses, plus UW Medical Center and Harborview. More than 600 cases— ranging from classroom conflicts to retirement— are handled annually, representing faculty, staff and students. Assistance can be anything from listening to recommending resources and occasionally mediation.

“Something we actively tap into is that it can be a useful learning experience when you find yourself in a situation that you never imagined… Especially for students, there is the idea that even if you become a subject matter expert, you will have to learn to deal with the gray situations to really be a leader.”

“We routinely work with folks who are world-renowned in their fields, whether it’s medicine or the arts, athletics, law or research. They come to our office because they’re facing a challenge and trying to be successful. The fact that smart people have the passion and drive to figure out how to deal with things makes the UW a great place to work.”

Even experts need a friendly ear. A picture of Yeti, Sloane’s cartoonishly charming Old English Sheepdog, hangs in his office. “He’s a wonderful listener!”