De Acker selected to serve as campus ombuds

The Office of Ombuds will provide impartial, informal, independent and confidential resolution services to faculty, staff, and students

Portrait of De Acker, campus ombuds
De Acker comes to UC Santa Cruz with more than three decades of UC experience. The Ombuds Office will serve faculty, staff, and students who are seeking guidance with the resolution of academic or administrative issues and disputes. (Photo by Veronica Adrover)

De Acker knows how powerful it can be for individuals in the midst of conflict to be able to speak up in a confidential and impartial environment.

Having founded the Office of Ombuds at UC Merced in 2012, Acker has helped students, faculty, and staff work through difficult situations they’re navigating in the campus environment.

"I really believe in the magic of ombuds," Acker said. "When people are able to express themselves, sometimes the conversation will change."

Chancellor Cynthia Larive announced today that Acker will support the UC Santa Cruz community as ombuds, starting Jan. 4. Associate Campus Provost Adrian Brasoveanu chaired the search.

"I am thrilled we were able to recruit someone of De’s caliber for our newly reconstituted ombuds position,” said Chancellor Cynthia Larive. “She will be a great help as we continue our work to create and support inclusive environments for all students, staff and faculty, creating a new independent avenue to conflict resolution.”

The office, which will be on the fourth floor of the McHenry Library, will serve faculty, staff, and students who are seeking guidance with the resolution of academic or administrative issues and disputes. Acker will work with visitors to the office to facilitate communication and assist the parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements to find fair and equitable resolutions to concerns.

The Office of Ombuds will function independently in managing cases and issues, though it will report to the Chancellor's Office for administrative and budgetary support. Without disclosing confidential communications, Acker will identify general trends, provide feedback throughout the organization, and advocate systems change when appropriate.

Acker comes to UC Santa Cruz with more than three decades of UC experience. She served as director of the UC Santa Barbara Women's Center for 12 years before joining UC Merced to serve as the assistant dean of the School of Natural Sciences.

After founding the campus's first ombuds office, she went on to establish the UC Merced Office of Campus Climate, which coordinated campus diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

For the past two years, she managed special projects for the campus, including leading its response to COVID-19 and helping to lead the creation of a 65-foot labyrinth on campus. Labyrinths are a tool for stress reduction, mental health, and community building, commonly used for meditation, mindfulness and/or spiritual practice, and connecting to oneself and the environment.

Acker also served as a staff advisor to the UC Board of Regents from 2014-2016.

With all her experience in the University of California, Acker said she knows about all the resources available to faculty, staff, and students, and wants to make sure they receive the support they need.

"Students, Staff and faculty spend so much time on campus that I want to help people get rid of any barriers to having a happy, successful, and productive living-learning-teaching and researching career," Acker said.

In addition to the opportunity to re-establish the Office of Ombuds, Acker said she was drawn to UC Santa Cruz because of its commitment to advancing social justice and its leadership as a Hispanic-Serving Research University.

The UCSC Office of Ombuds closed in 2012 because of budget cuts, though some aspects of the role have have been filled by the Office of Campus Conflict Resolution Services, led by Director Nancy Heischman.

For more than a decade, Heischman has provided professional consultation, mediation and training to members of the UCSC community. The office focused on prevention, effective management, and informal resolution of conflict at all levels. Heischman will serve as a special advisor to ensure a smooth transition and is set to retire at the end of the academic year.

A 2019 review of existing compliance units revealed an opportunity to streamline resolution services on campus. In spring 2022, an external review team communicated with numerous campus stakeholders, and ultimately issued a report that recommended the hiring of a campus ombuds.

The services offered by the ombuds will supplement the other offices that are intended to advance and strengthen equity and access at UC Santa Cruz.