What Does the University Ombuds Do?
The University Faculty Ombuds provides information, options, impartial review, and help in resolving conflicts, and they offer feedback and recommendations for system change to senior administration. Using an alternative dispute resolution sensibility, or perhaps more apt, an appropriate dispute resolution sensibility, the ombuds can provide options to whistleblowers or members of the organization with ethics concerns; provide coaching, shuttle diplomacy, generic solutions (meaning a solution which protects the identity of one individual by applying to a class of people, rather than just for the one individual) and mediation for conflicts; track problem areas; and make recommendations for changes to policies or procedures in support of orderly system change.
The ombuds practicing to the International Ombuds Association (IOA) “standards of practice” is neutral and visibly outside ordinary line and staff structures. The ombuds practices informally, with no management decision-making power, and without accepting “notice” for the organization. The ombuds typically keeps no case records and keeps near absolute confidentiality. The only exception is when there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm to a person, and the ombuds can see no responsible option other than breaking confidence — but the ombuds can almost always find “other responsible options”, such as helping a visitor to make an anonymous report about whatever appears to be the problem.
Another ombuds function is to monitor and pick up “new things” — that is, issues new to the University. This is particularly important if the “new thing” is “disruptive” in the sense of requiring the University to review and possibly improve its policies, procedures and/or structures. In recent years there have been many articles about organizational ombuds and about how they coordinate with internal conflict management systems. (See for example: International Ombudsman Association and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ombuds Office for many references).
PURPOSE AND SCOPE OF SERVICES The Office will provide an informal, neutral and confidential environment for resolution of disputes to University of Michigan faculty with concerns related to their faculty roles. The Office will be a place where members of the University faculty 1 can seek information and guidance regarding concerns, conflicts, or disputes at no cost and at any stage in the resolution process to the extent possible based on laws and the policies governing the Office. The scope of the Office is limited to addressing matters directly involving University faculty. The Office will confidentially receive complaints, concerns, or questions about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and/or broader problems. The response of the Office is tailored to the dynamics of the situation and the visitor’ s2 concerns. The Ombuds will listen, make informal inquiries to facilitate resolution, or otherwise review matters received, offer options for resolution, make referrals, and mediate disputes independently and impartially. The Ombuds will not function as a fact-finder or arbitrator; where the Ombuds thinks an investigation is appropriate, the Ombuds may request that the Provost’s Office or another office as appropriate conduct an investigation. Services of the Office supplement, but do not replace, other processes (formal and informal) available to the University community. In addition, the Ombuds will serve as an information and communication resource, consultant, mediator, dispute resolution practitioner, and source of recommendations for institutional change for the University. The Ombuds will provide feedback to the University administration when trends, patterns, policies, or procedures of the University generate concerns or conflicts.