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Released August 8, 2003


HATTIESBURG -- The University of Southern Mississippi is in the process of launching the first full mediation program among Mississippi universities for the purpose of offering its employees the chance to work through conflicts, challenges and concerns without having to access formal grievance procedures.

Mediation is the common term used to describe the process of alternative dispute resolution, which allows people the option to address concerns in a non-administrative setting. Normally, the process involves two people wishing to work through a problem, and a neutral third party, or mediator.

Thirty Southern Miss employees and members of the greater Hattiesburg community are poised to serve on the Southern Miss Employee Mediator Team, which will be fully functional by the end of the fall semester.

Dr. Richard Conville, a professor of Speech Communication and member of the team, said that he is looking forward to taking part in the process.

"To assist those with disputes in achieving a meeting of the minds would be most gratifying personally and would contribute to a climate of collaboration in the university," Conville said. "With a mediation program in place, staff and faculty have many more options beyond the standard ones: stay mad, leave, or file a grievance.

"During a well-managed mediation process, many other alternatives appear that the disputing parties had never thought of, as a result of the good-faith dialogue."

Like other members of the mediation team, Conville is anticipating a round of mediation training in October, which will be followed by a series of "mock" mediation sessions to allow the mediators to polish their skills.

Kimberly Busche, who works in Food Services at Southern Miss, will also serve on the Mediation Team.

"We are looking forward to offering our employees a way to enhance their jobs by alleviating stress," Busche said. "This program is a positive way to offer the campus community the opportunity to work through challenges and concerns, hopefully coming together as a better organization. It will open up lines of communication between employees."

Between now and the date the Mediation Team gets up and running, the university has access to a number of trained mediators it can call in from outside should the need arise, according to Rebecca Woodrick, who chairs the Southern Miss Mediation Advisory Board, the group that has guided the process of putting a full-fledged mediator team in place.

That process began in November 2000, when Southern Miss tried out a one-year pilot program to gauge the potential effectiveness of such a service to its employees. Reaction to the process was positive, so plans to put a full-time team in place to facilitate employee mediation were begun.

Among the steps along the way has been the choosing of mediators, something that was done through an extensive outreach process involving university employees at every level, as well as members of the Hattiesburg community.

Ultimately, the Advisory Board was looking for people who were perceived by their peers as being trustworthy and having good common sense, Woodrick said. By the time the search for mediators had concluded, Southern Miss had 70 candidates to fill slots on the planned 30-member Mediation Team.

Now that the 30-member team has been selected, its members await the October training session. That session will be taught at Southern Miss by Dr. William Wilmot, a practicing mediator, facilitator and communication consultant, as well as the founding director of Collaboration Institute and a senior associate of the Yarbrough Group, a well-known consulting firm located in Boulder, Colo.

Once the Southern Miss Mediation Team is fully in place, its primary function will be to offer the option of mediation to Southern Miss employees.

But, Woodrick said, "We see this as a service that can ultimately be extended to the larger Hattiesburg community."

Another member of the Mediation Team, Southern Miss Grants Adminstrator Howard Fromkin, said that the new mediation effort should prove highly effective, largely due to the make-up of the Mediation Team.

"I'm confident that the combination of staff, faculty and community members can produce a powerful, effective, and peaceful method of conflict resolution," Fromkin said.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM