Kenneth J. Abdo: Class of 1979
In 1976, in the interest of connecting in a substantive way with the U, I applied for a job at the Student Ombudsman Service. Student-run, student-staffed, and modeled after a Swedish government office, SOS provided a progressive, nonconfrontational approach to resolving student complaints with the administration. In other words, we tried to make the U a little less of a hassle for students via our special access to faculty and administrators. Our assistance was free and available to all students.
Our office, which was on the first floor of Johnston Hall, looked more like a college pad than a place of business. It was cluttered with campus reference books, ferns, a Mr. Coffee, a used couch, several very used lounge chairs, a battered desk, and a free phone. Students stopped in unannounced to seek directions, advice, information, or some other form of help. Some questions were a pretext to hang out, use the free phone, and mooch a cup of coffee, but most requests were real, if not urgent.
I was a political science major, and, like most ombudsmen (and women), I was a full-time undergrad working part-time. As amateur do-gooders, we were paid about $2.25 an hour by the University. We were self-governed—a true oxymoron—yet we reported to one of the college deans whose name I can’t recall because we were so effectively self-governed. After my sophomore and junior years of service, I was elected SOS director.
My eldest son started the U this year. Prompted by nostalgia, I investigated the Student Conflict Resolution Center, which, as I suspected, is the former SOS. It is now part of Student Affairs and run by several full-time professionals and at least three students. The director tells me that my picture is in the office history book. Maybe I’ll pay a visit with my son and ask him to pose a few questions to an earnest staffer while I mooch a cup of coffee and show him the old man’s photo.
Mr. Abdo is a senior law partner and full-time entertainment lawyer at Abdo, Abdo, Satorius in Minneapolis. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (’79) from the U of M.