Pursuant to recommendations from the University Senate Committee on Women’s Concerns and the Chancellor’s workgroup on Diversity & Inclusion, the University has established the Office of University Ombuds (hereinafter, the “Ombuds”) to serve as an informal, confidential, impartial, and independent resource for faculty, staff, and graduate students.
ii. Role of the Office of the University Ombuds
The Ombuds is meant to be a place employees and graduate students can go, outside of formal channels like Human Resources, the Office of Equal Opportunity Inclusion & Resolution Services, the Office of University Counsel, or Risk Management, to address concerns or questions without fear of retaliation or judgment. Adding this separate, but confidential, conflict resolution resource to the University’s existing conflict resolution resources will help further promote a respectful and ethical campus community in line with the University’s values and policies. The Ombuds will report to University leadership on general trends and patterns of complaints without breaching confidentiality so that problems may be prevented from escalating or recurring.
iii. Scope of Services
The Office of the University Ombuds provides a venue for complaints, conflicts, or concerns that employees and graduate students do not wish to address through other official University channels. Matters appropriately addressed by the Ombuds may include, without limitation, disputes, other interpersonal conflicts, or questions about University policies, practices, or services.
The Ombuds may take any number of steps to responsibly address concerns raised, including, without limitation:
- Educating employees and graduate students on effective methods of de-escalating and resolving interpersonal conflicts;
- Referring employees and graduate students to other University offices or services;
- Coaching individuals in written and in-person communications;
- Explaining or clarifying University policies;
- Assisting individuals in identifying personal goals; and
- In some cases, engaging in shuttle diplomacy or mediation.
The Ombuds will address concerns on a fact-specific basis, and its response may vary from case-to-case. The Ombuds is authorized to provide informal assistance only, and is not authorized to accept notice of any claims against the University, to establish, change or set aside any University rule or policy, or to override the decisions of any University administrator.
The Ombuds is open to employees and graduate students. This includes bargaining unit members, subject to the terms of their respective collective bargaining agreements. The Ombuds will refer bargaining unit members to their respective union resources for matters that are subject to resolution under the scope of the applicable collective bargaining agreements. The Ombuds may work with individual union members to help them answer questions or resolve issues outside the scope of the collective bargaining agreements.
Undergraduate students are encouraged to continue to avail themselves of the various existing informal and formal processes and services at the University (e.g., the Office of Student Assistance, the Counseling Center, Hendricks Chapel, Health Services, the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion & Resolution Services) to address and resolve issues that might otherwise be handled by the Ombuds for employees and graduate students.
iv. Standards of Practice
The Ombuds is structured and operates pursuant to the Standards of Practice (“Standards”) and Code of Ethics (“Code”) promulgated by the International Ombudsman Association (“IOA”), which are incorporated by reference herein. As set forth more fully in the IOA Standards and Code, the Ombuds operates according to the following four core principles:
The Ombuds will treat all communications and inquiries as confidential to the extent permitted by law. This means that the Ombuds will not disclose the identities of visitors to the Ombuds, or contents of conversations, and will not disclose documents, testify, attend, or participate in formal internal or external proceedings. As such, the Ombuds does not keep individually identifiable notes or records, except for basic working notes on active cases as necessary to help the Ombuds follow-up on questions or concerns raised by employees and graduate students. The only exceptions to confidentiality are where: an employee gives express permission for the Ombuds to make a disclosure; the Ombuds determines there is imminent risk of serious harm to the employees, graduate students, or others; or and the Ombuds is required to provide information pursuant to court order or other legal process.The Ombuds does not provide legal advice, representation, or medical or mental health counseling. Consistent with the International Ombudsman Association Standards and Code, conversations with Ombuds staff do not constitute notice to the University of any administrative or legal claims an employee may have. Moreover, such conversations do not toll or affect any time limits by which notice of claims must be provided to the University or asserted in an administrative or legal proceeding.
The Ombuds functions independently and outside of existing administrative structures and processes. The Ombuds operates free from interference and undue influence from the University or University administrators. Although the Ombuds staff members are employees of the University, they are not aligned with any particular school, department, or unit.The Ombuds cannot compel other offices or administrators take specific actions. The Ombuds is not authorized to establish, change or set aside any University rule or policy, initiate a formal investigation, impose discipline, or override decisions of the University or University administrators.
- Impartiality and Neutrality
The Ombuds staff are neutral, impartial, third-party resources for University employees and graduate students. They do not take sides for or against any individual, cause, or position. The Ombuds exists to provide fair and equitable services and guidance to all employees and graduate students.
The Ombuds is authorized to provide informal assistance only, and cannot mandate or initiate formal investigations, proceedings, or disciplinary processes. The Ombuds also cannot: adjudicate cases; act as an advocate or witness in any case inside or outside the University; keep case records for the University; assess wrongdoing or innocence; determine sanctions; or make, change or set aside any rule, policy or administrative decision.The Ombuds can provide information about available formal channels so that individuals may decide which process is best for them. The Ombuds complements but does not duplicate existing grievance procedures and compliance channels.Formal records are not created, nor are personally identifiable documents preserved. Permanent records of the Ombuds include only anonymous, aggregate data.The Ombuds is not authorized to accept legal notice of claims against the University.
v. Authority of the University Ombuds
The Ombuds is authorized to contact members of the University, including senior administrators, to make informal inquiries and help resolve concerns brought forward. The Ombuds may request access to information related to employee and graduate students’ concerns. The Ombuds is authorized to discuss options available to employees to address their concerns, including discussing available formal and informal processes. The Ombuds will make suggestions for resolving concerns that it deems appropriate, but has no authority to impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change any policy, rule, or procedure.
The Ombuds has no authority to take action to redress complaints of harassment, discrimination, or other claims of misconduct. However, the Ombuds may assist employees and graduate students with filing formal complaints by providing them with information on relevant policies and procedures. The Ombuds is not authorized to conduct formal investigations of any kind, nor to participate in any internal or external formal proceedings on behalf of employees, graduate students, or the University.
The Ombuds is not authorized to accept notice of any administrative or legal claims—including, without limitation, claims of discrimination, harassment, criminal activity, or other misconduct—on behalf of the University. Communication to the Ombuds does not constitute notice to the University. The Ombuds is not a “Campus Security Authority” under the Clery Act, nor a “Responsible Employee” under Title IX.
From time to time, the Ombuds may require legal advice or representation, including advice on how to respond to requests for documents or testimony. In such cases, the Ombuds will consult with the Office of University Counsel, and if the Ombuds and General Counsel agree that the interests of the Ombuds differ from, or cannot be protected by, internal or external counsel for the University, the Ombuds will be provided with legal counsel separate and independent from the University.