September 02, 2008

UGA's New Ombuds Program Fails in Several, Critical Aspects

After several sexual harassment scandals rocked the University of Georgia, top administrators promised reforms, including an Ombuds Office for faculty, staff and students. Early reports seemed to indicate that the program would follow prevailing practices for organizational Ombuds: UGA President Michael Adams mentioned the need for neutrality and confidentiality; and the student newspaper endorsed IOA standards. UGA has now rolled out its program and introduced three new Ombuds. It is immediately apparent that the new Ombuds cannot assure confidentiality. The press release says that, the designated Ombuds "serve as independent, neutral and informal resources for UGA students, faculty and staff." As for confidentiality, the UGA website explains:
All communications related to an allegation, concern or other issue reported to Ombudspersons will be kept confidential to the extent legally permissible and consistent with maintaining the safety and public welfare of the campus. In cases where information reported to an Ombudsperson indicates that there may be a violation of the University's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, the Ombudsperson will be obligated to report that information to the NDAH Officer in keeping with that policy.

In addition to the issue of confidentiality, there is good reason to be suspicious of the UGA Ombuds' independence, neutrality and informality. All three continue to hold administrative posts at the university.
  • Ombuds for Students -- Shay Davis Little is director of administrative operations for University Housing and an adjunct faculty member.
  • Ombuds for Faculty -- Anne Proffitt Dupre is a tenured professor in the law school and co-director of a UGA consortium.
  • Ombuds for Staff -- Kathryn M. Chetney helps UGA’s Human Resources Office conduct workplace investigations and counsels employees regarding the university’s progressive discipline process, Family and Medical Leave Act, HR policies and procedures and Dispute Resolution Process.
The net effect is a program that does not reflect best practices for organizational Ombuds. Indeed, UGA's Ombuds Office does not resemble the typical model for Ombuds programs in American institutions of higher education. (UGA Press Release; UGA Ombuds Office Website; Red and Black.)

Prior posts: University of Georgia Petitions for Staff Ombuds; UGA Student Newspaper Endorses Ombuds Office Proposal; UGA Ombuds News Roundup; UGA Promises Three New Ombuds by October.

2 comments:

  1. These positions look more like "HR lisaisons" rather than ombuds. Their job descriptions define what a good Employee relations official should be doing,(eg., screening statutory claims)rather than an ombuds who is concerned with assisting employees find informal resolution of all types of issues.

    ReplyDelete
  2. John Zinsser9/03/2008 7:14 AM

    This is both interesting and disappointing.
    Earlier this week Western Georgia's OO program went active and seems to be very much in line with SOPs, COEs, and best practices. UGA's concerns appear to stem from some of the disclosure laws of the state which does not allow UGA to keep any pertinent information confidential. The conundrum that establishes is this: If UGA and WGA are functioning in the same legal environment, how is it that they came away with such distinctly different programs?

    This development mirrors what I see as the growing trend - more programs coming on-line that are using the word, but not the guidelines. Recently relatively large organizations, even some under court order or regulatory agreement have been able to argue for (and win approval for) ombuds programs that are actually ombuds in name only.

    This should be a concern to the community from several perspectives - Future Development, Preservation of Legal Confidentiality, and General Perception.

    John

    ReplyDelete