Profile: Ombuds Solves Big Problem with Tiny Staff
Date: Sept. 25, 2000
By: Michele Howard, student intern
Photo by: Colleen Kelley
Lillian Santa-Maria was born into the role of a mediator.
"There are eight kids in my family, and someone was always living
with us," said Santa-Maria, UC's University Ombudsman. "It was my
job to set the table at home, and I never set it for less than 10
or 12." Santa-Maria believes her natural instinct as a problem
solver comes from her middle child status in such a large
In 1994, Santa-Maria, a graduate of UC's College of Law,
brought her talents back to UC when she accepted a position with
UC's University Ombuds, an independent organization that responds
to concerns of UC's community. "This is a safe place for
(faculty, staff and students) to come and find out about their
rights under UC policy," she said.
Santa-Maria admits she was not initially enthusiastic about
her new job. "I was one of those kids who didn't like to sell
candy bars. It's the whole aspect of making cold calls." She said
she was relieved when she discovered the faculty and staff are
very willing to be helpful. "99 percent of the time, I get a
positive response from the faculty and staff I contact."
Santa-Maria works with associate ombudsman Gayle Prager to
handle all the inquiries with the assistance of two graduate
students. "We are available for students to confidentially talk
through their problems. We help them understand their choices...
from the least risky to the most public, hi-risk choice," said
Outside of her duties as an ombudsman, Santa-Maria likes to
"cook, read, travel and keep track of my adolescent children,"
she said laughing. "My daughter is starting at Smith College and
my son is a junior in high school."
Santa-Maria is a seasoned traveler. Her favorite destinations
include Calgary, the Yucatan Peninsula, Latin America and Mexico.
"No matter where I go," said Santa-Maria, "I always say, 'I could
live here.'" Her favorite American city is San Francisco. There
is one exception, though. "I hate the Everglades. I'm not a
mosquito, alligator and snake person."
Part of the appeal of traveling for Santa-Maria is the
opportunity it provides to see the ways other people live. "I
like to read historical novels and autobiographies for the same
reason," said Santa-Maria.
Santa-Maria says her job as an Omsbud has a similar appeal.
"It's interesting to do this work because people's problems are
in the form of a story." She enjoys figuring out the dynamics of
each client. "You never know who will walk in the door. It's
According to Santa-Maria, the biggest challenge of her job is
getting the word out about their services. "Nobody knows what
Ombuds means," she said. "We provide a unique function. We keep
the university functioning through negotiating and preserve
Members of the UC community should feel free to contact the
University Ombuds by phone (556-5956) or by stopping by. "We have
confidential voice mail that can be accessed 24 hours a day,
seven days a week," said Santa-Maria.
The office is located in 335 Tangeman University Center. During the TUC renovation next
year, the office will move to a temporary facility on Zimmer