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Graduate Student Ombudsperson Program

Graduate Student Ombudspersons are exclusively available to consult with Penn State graduate students. Graduate students may request to meet with any of the ombudspersons.

Graduate Student Ombudspersons provide a safe environment for graduate students to discuss issues and concerns. They assist the students in identifying or creating options for resolution, understanding relevant policies, connecting with resources for support and assistance and making referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers. Ombudspersons do not formally advocate for the student or any individual point of view, but instead work to promote a fair process for all. The Graduate Student Ombudspersons do not keep formal records, perform formal investigations, or advocate for either one party or another, but they advocate for fairness. 

Duncan K. H. Fong, is Professor of Marketing at Smeal College of Business and Affiliated Professor of Statistics in the Eberly College of Science at the Pennsylvania State University. He is a former chairman of the Marketing Department (2010-13) and a former Ph.D. Director of Smeal Ph.D. Programs (2009). Professor Fong has also served as the Ph.D. Coordinator of the Marketing Department for many years. His research interests include marketing research, marketing analytics, Bayesian analysis, operations research, and supply chain management. He has published more than fifty refereed articles in various top journals in Marketing, Statistics, Operations Management and Operations Research. At Penn State, he has served on 34 doctoral committees and 13 M.S. committees, supervised 10 doctoral dissertations, 3 master theses and 1 undergraduate honors thesis. His former Ph.D. advisees were placed at universities and industrial firms. He can be reached at

Deb Kerstetter, Professor Emerita, served as Professor-in-Charge of Graduate Studies for Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management in the College of Health and Human Development. In that capacity she assigned and oversaw assistantships; communicated policies and procedures; reviewed academic progress and personal successes and challenges; acted as a liaison when conflicts arose; and created a safe space. As a member of the graduate faculty, she chaired 23 doctoral and 19 master’s students’ committees and served on an additional 95 graduate students’ committees. To date, she has collaborated with her students on approximately 70 refereed publications, 10 book chapters, and 120 juried papers. Deb can be reached at

Patrick Lee Plaisance is the Don W. Davis Professor in Ethics at the Bellisario College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University, and an Affiliate Faculty at the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. After a 14-year career as a journalist, he began his second career in academia in 2002. His research focuses on applications of ethics theory to media practice, moral psychology, and the philosophy of technology. He has published three books on these topics, including a widely used textbook on media ethics, and dozens of peer-reviewed articles. He frequently collaborates with graduate students as co-authors, writes a regular blog at Psychology Today, and is Editor of the Journal of Media Ethics. He has served on dozens of committees for doctoral and master’s students, supervises research assistants, and regularly speaks on the topics of research ethics and academic integrity. Patrick can be reached at


Each Graduate Student Ombudsperson is committed to:

  • Enhance communication;
  • Listen and help to analyze the problem or complaint;
  • Clarify possible misunderstandings in situations that involve potential disputes;
  • Help to define and evaluate options;
  • Identify and explain relevant University policies and procedures;
  • Assist in resolving issues informally and expeditiously; and
  • Assure that appropriate department, college/school and/or campus procedures are exhausted before referring the case to higher levels.

Graduate Student Ombudsperson shall not:

  • Hold hearings;
  • Exceed the role of conciliator and adviser;
  • Substitute their judgment for that of appropriate administrative and/or faculty bodies;
  • Serve as adviser for either party in official proceedings such as appeal hearings, Title IX cases, or student conduct disciplinary hearings.

Any graduate student on any campus can contact any of the ombudspersons via email. We invite you to read their biographies to learn more about them. The email addresses are listed for each person.

Students are welcome to discuss any issues related to their graduate education with an ombudsperson. Examples of items to discuss include concerns regarding interactions with your dissertation or academic adviser, conflicts with other students, or academic difficulties. The ombudspersons are there to help you sort through options, provide advice, inform you about University resources, and be a “thinking partner.”

Confidentiality, Independence, Informality, Neutrality & Impartiality

Confidentiality: Ombudspersons hold all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence, and do not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. The only exception to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm, suspected abuse, or if required by law.

Independence: The Ombudsperson is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the University. The ombudsperson is independent of other University entities and holds no other position that might compromise independence. The ombudsperson exercises sole discretion over whether or how to act in a situation.

Informality: Ombudspersons, as an informal resource, do not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to their attention. Any communication with the office is "off the record" and the office does not provide formal notice of a problem to the University. The use of the Graduate Student Ombudsperson program is not a substitute for formal procedures, and is strictly voluntary.

Neutrality & Impartiality: Ombudspersons are advocates for fairness with no personal stake in the outcome of any situation. They do not take sides and consider the rights and interests of all involved parties. They do not judge, discipline, or reward anyone.

This page was generated on February 24, 2024 at 5:22 PM local time. This may not be the most recent version of this page. Check the Penn State Graduate School website for updates.