Signs at Girvetz Hall point students to the Institute for Crustal Studies and the Office of the Ombuds.
Elena Gray-Blanc

The UCSB campus is home to a myriad of organizations, departments, and groups, and most of these are relatively self-explanatory. The English, history, and mechanical engineering departments are precisely what they appear to be, for example. Nestled away in Girvetz Hall, however, are two very oddly named offices, both of which beg for an explanation.

These would be the Institute for Crustal Studies and the Office of the Ombuds. The signs directing those in need of Crustal Studies or of an Ombud hang side by side, in a hallway between the Girvetz courtyard and the bike path, beckoning the unwary to step into the unknown. This week, Weird SB went to investigate.

The first of these, the Institute for Crustal Studies, is really precisely what it appears to be, despite its silly name. Founded nearly 20 years ago, the institute is devoted to the study of a crust – the Earth’s crust, to be precise. Geology, seismology, chemical engineering, geophysics, and meteorology are just a few of the disciplines involved in this massive subject. The institute’s research staff has tackled a wide variety of projects in recent years, including Antarctic expeditions, studies of the San Andreas fault, and the earthquake history of Santa Barbara. Links from the institute’s website lead to a dizzying array of resources, from maps to public information to research data.

While it would be possible to deduce some of this just from the institute’s name, the Office of the Ombuds is somewhat more enigmatic. It turns out that an ombud, or ombudsman, is a mediator of sorts. The originally Swedish word is defined on the Office of the Ombuds’ website as “a person who has an ear to the people.” In practice, ombuds can be associated with nearly any type of organization, from a corporation to a government, and their function is to pay attention to individual complaints and concerns. Anyone who has ever longed for a real person to speak to, instead of an automated system or a faceless bureaucracy, has actually been wishing for the services of an ombud – whether they knew it or not.

At UCSB, the Office of the Ombuds “assists campus members with the informal resolution of any University-related complaint or conflict.” A student who feels that he or she has been treated unfairly by a professor, for example, can apply to the ombuds for an impersonal and impartial third party to advise and, if necessary, mediate. The organization is effective at heading off interpersonal trouble before it becomes a lawsuit, a fistfight, or an issue involving the university’s administration.

While the Office of the Ombuds serves only the UCSB community, their website provides links to other groups who are available to the general public. They’re a wonderful resource for mediation and conflict resolution of all kinds. The Institute for Crustal Studies is a little less immediately useful, but hey, at least they’ve got a great name.


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