Justice Served Mary Oling Ottoo directs Student Judicial Affairs One week before spring semester began, as most of the campus slumbered, things were hopping in Mary Oling Ottoo’s Kendall Hall office. The director of student judicial affairs, Oling Ottoo was busily at work fielding phone calls from the disgruntled—students, parents, and sometimes their lawyers. Her job is a steady diet of grievance and discipline. Most of the time, she’s either listening to students as they file complaints or imposing punishment on those who violate campus rules. Sound miserable? She doesn’t see it that way. “Everybody says it must be a really hard job, but I enjoy doing what I do,” Oling Ottoo said. “No day is ever the same.” Seated at her desk, Oling Ottoo exuded confidence and calm as she described her latest challenge. A student with discipline problems who left the university years ago without completing the required community service hours, or “sanctions,” to atone for his bad behavior recently attempted to have his transcript sent to another CSU campus. When he called the records office, however, he discovered the transcript had been placed on hold. The student phoned Oling Ottoo to demand that it be released. Unruffled, she told him that it wasn’t going to be that easy. “This student wanted me to just drop it,” she said. “I said that would be unfair to other students.” Instead, she proposed they negotiate a solution and offered a plan of action. “I told him to think about it, and he said, ‘I’ll do that,’” she said. Oling Ottoo aims to settle these and other situations informally, using her considerable experience as a mediator and negotiator, skills she developed at a young age. Born and raised in Uganda, Oling Ottoo said her family was part of a traditional clan system that had a formal grievance process. “If anybody in the clan committed a violation, they would have to go before the clan elders,” she said. “The clan would hear the dispute and give out punishment.” She couldn’t help chuckling as she recalled how once, as a teenager, she hid in the bushes to eavesdrop as the elders sentenced her uncle, accused by his wife of an infraction, to three lashes of the cane and some hard labor. “I thought that was really harsh,” Oling Ottoo said. So she gathered up her courage and sprang from her hiding place to speak her mind. “They were really chagrined at what I had to say,” she added. “But I think they thought about it and decided my uncle was too old to be caned.” The oldest of ten children, Oling Ottoo often found herself intervening on her siblings’ behalf as well. After a younger brother squandered his entire allowance on a T-shirt featuring a naked picture of Madonna, her conservative Catholic father threatened to cut off his next installment. (The children attended boarding school and needed the “pocket money” for food and school supplies.) “I said, ‘Dad, if you don’t give him any money, then he’s going to be hungry, and he won’t do well in his class work,’” Oling Ottoo recalled. She asked her father to give her brother half his allowance. Eventually, he received the full amount. Oling Ottoo built on her early talents, later earning a master’s degree in public communication from Fordham University in New York and working as a mediator at the City University of New York before coming to CSU, Chico three years ago. This spring she’ll complete a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Southern California. She said when students come to her with a grievance—the most common being grade disputes—she often advises them to go to their professor and accept any responsibility they may bear for the grade. “I explain to students that the way you present an issue can make or break a case,” she said. “If you present it in a way that rubs them the wrong way, then, from the outset, you’re done for.” But she said grade disputes often have to do with an unclear syllabus. And she offers this advice to faculty: “Make sure your syllabus says exactly what you’re going to do, and make sure you stick to it. If you’re going to change it, give the students ample notice and discuss it with them.” Oling Ottoo also deals with discipline regarding abuses of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. While drug and alcohol violations accounted for 87 percent of discipline cases last year, Oling Ottoo said she is concerned about the rapid rise in cheating and plagiarism on campus. “What has been problematic for us is that faculty members are not consistent in how they deal with academic dishonesty. They will decide to let one student redo a paper, for instance, and then maybe refer another student to us,” she said. If students are not happy with the outcome of a grievance or discipline case, they have the right to contest the outcome through a more formal hearing process. Although such hearings are rare, Oling Ottoo happened to be preparing for one at press time. Rather than shrink from the conflict that inevitably arises in such proceedings, Oling Ottoo relishes the challenge. On any given day, she said, “I may have stuff on my calendar, then somebody walks in the door, and the whole place just goes crazy.”} Mary Abowd