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Meet Sarah Klaper, University ombudsperson

The new Office of the Ombudsperson is a conflict resolution resource for the Northwestern community

ombudsperson
Sarah Klaper was appointed ombudsperson in May. Photo by Shane Collins

Are you a Northwestern student or a member of the faculty or staff? Do you have a University-related problem but are unsure about how or where to find assistance?

Sarah Klaper is the University’s first ombudsperson, and she wants to lend a hand.

The Office of the Ombudsperson is a confidential, neutral, informal and independent conflict resolution resource for the entire Northwestern community. Klaper’s job is to work with individuals to navigate effectively through conflict and to learn about their options for resolving the situation, so that they can make educated decisions about their situation. 

“I like to say that the Office of the Ombudsperson acts as the campus Google. It is a great resource for when you don’t even know how to start addressing an issue, where to go or what form to fill out,” said Klaper. “Northwestern is a big place. Instead of being frustrated and not knowing where to turn, come to see us. If we don’t know the answer, we will find it and get you on the right path.” 

Klaper was appointed ombudsperson in May 2021, and the office officially opened a few months later after years of advocacy from the Northwestern community and efforts from the University’s Office of the Provost.

“Our community identified a need for a neutral resource, and I am confident that Sarah has the experience and temperament to make an immediate impact on campus,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty.

When you need to be heard

Northwestern’s Office of the Ombudsperson provides assistance by offering feedback on written appeals and correspondence, input on the development of fair and equitable policies and procedures, facilitation of difficult conversations and mediation services.    

“I frequently work with individuals who want and need to be heard on a particular topic. I help them learn their options for being heard, and for being heard effectively,” Klaper said. “We walk through the issue, and then discuss options, both informal and formal. We then work through effective strategies around those options.”

Northwestern community members are welcome to reach out to the Office of the Ombudsperson with any of the following concerns: 

  • Academic issues
  • Faculty/student disputes
  • Disciplinary matters
  • Housing concerns
  • Workplace issues
  • Discrimination
  • Incivility
  • Privacy issues
  • Retaliation
  • Unethical behavior
  • Other University-related concerns

The office can address some of these issues directly and, in some cases, it will direct individuals to the appropriate Northwestern office or unit for resolution. And while its list of services is long, there are a few things the office does not do, including act as an advocate for individuals, provide legal advice or participate in any formal process of the University as a witness or otherwise.

Healthy work and education environments

Before coming to Northwestern, Klaper served as the university ombudsperson at Northern Illinois University (NIU) for nine years. In that role, she provided conflict prevention and resolution, coaching and strategic thinking to the campus community. She modernized, reformed and rebuilt the ombuds program to be a proactive office focused on healthy work and education environments, transparency, communication and equity. 

Prior to her role at NIU, Klaper was an instructor at the DePaul University College of Law, where she taught legal analysis, education law, and state and local government. Her scholarship has focused on open government issues concerning citizen participation, the First Amendment, the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and open meetings laws.

“The Northwestern community has been working to create this position for many years, and it is an honor to be chosen to bring that concept into reality,” Klaper said. “I’m excited to continue developing the role of the ombudsperson as a proactive, constructive and practical conflict resolution resource from the beginning of the situation all the way through to its conclusion.”

Visit the ombudsperson

To learn more, visit the Office of the Ombudsperson at 555 Clark St., Suite 209, Evanston. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with additional appointments available on request.

Or contact the office at (847) 467-2430 or ombuds@northwestern.edu to make an in-person appointment in Evanston or Chicago or schedule a Zoom meeting.

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