February 29, 2008

Florida Gulf Coast U Adds Part-Time Ombuds

The FGCU Ombuds Office has appointed Katherine Hale as a part-time assistant Ombuds for faculty issues, working with the University Ombuds, Charles W. McKinney. Hale is a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma, and Masters and Bachelors from Abilene Christian University. Hale has over 300 hours of additional specialized education and training in conflict intervention, including facilitation, multi-lateral negotiation, mediation, training, intercultural conflict and negotiation, dispute resolution system design, and a number of specific conflict content areas. (FGCU Press Release.)

IOA Annual Conference Keynote Speakers

The International Ombudsman Association has released details of the keynote speakers for its Third Annual Conference in Boston, April 13-16:
  • Dr. Ricard E. Lapchick will provide the first keynote address, "A Bridge Across the Racial Divide." He is the director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport and has written extensively on racial equality in sports. (Biography; Sports Business Journal article; ESPN article.)
  • Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas will keynote the second day on "Cultural Competencies and Diversity in 21st Century Diplomacy." The Former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal was the 2007 recipient of the U.S. State Department's "Director General's Cup for the Foreign Service." (Biography; Jet profile.)
  • Dr. Paul Barreira is the final keynote speaker and will speak on "The State of College Mental Health." Berreira is director of Harvard’s Department of Behavioral Health and Academic Counseling and an associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. (Harvard Crimson editorial, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal article.)
(IOA Conference Brochure.)

February 26, 2008

UMass-Amherst Ombuds to Coordinate Impartial Observers

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has asked its Ombuds Office to maintain a list of staff and faculty who would be willing to serve as impartial observers during certain campus events where students and campus police are present. In the unlikely circumstance that any disruption should occur where students and police have to interact, observers are there to validate what actually occurred. “In no case would an observer participate in any part of the activity,” said Catharine Porter, University Ombuds. “This system of observers is in place to assure fairness and accuracy in reporting what transpired.” (UMassAmherst: In the Loop.)

Related posts: U of Arkansas Office of Student Mediation Changing Name to Ombuds Office; Texas Tech Ombuds to Help Administer Student Relief Funds.

UGA Student Newspaper Endorses Ombuds Office Proposal

The Red and Black, the independent student newspaper serving the University of Georgia, is backing a proposal to create a campus Ombuds office. The newspaper cited recent concerns about sexual harassment policies, and called upon University President Michael Adams to make good on his promises:
It is apparent the University is in dire need of an ombudsmen office, and The Red & Black hopes the delegate appointed should be independent of the University.

We want this office established before the beginning of the next school year to handle all complaints from students, faculty and staff.

(Red and Black.)

Related post: UGA President Agrees to Consider Ombuds for Staff and Students.

February 25, 2008

UK Researcher Advocates Legislative Support for Ombuds Programs

David Esplin, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire Business School, finds that there is a compelling evidence to justify a increased use of ADR methods in dealing with employment disputes in the UK. In his paper, "Employment Dispute Resolution In Great Britain, The Case For Change, An International Perspective," Esplin draws on ADR programs in various countries including the Ombuds programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Naval Medical Center, the Transportation Security Administration, and the World Bank. Citing research by Mary Rowe and Carole Houk, he concludes that Ombuds lower litigation costs and increase stakeholder satisfaction.

Esplin recommends statutory changes to promote the growth of Ombuds in the UK:

[C]onsideration should be given to creating some form of legislative provision to encourage employers to use mediation structures similar to the USA Ombudsman and [integrated conflict management] systems as a replacement for grievance style hearings in the resolution of employment disputes.

Esplin, Employment Dispute Resolution in Great Britain, see pp. 15-19.)

Lehigh Appoints Two Ombuds

Lehigh University has announced that Rosemary J. Mundhenk and Charles R. Smith will replace Vince Munley, who served as University's Ombuds since October 2002. Mundhenk has taught at Lehigh since 1973, and has published on John Milton, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. Smith has taught at Lehigh since 1978, and his research focuses on the fundamental fluid and heat transfer behavior of turbulent and generally unsteady flows. (Lehigh News.)

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente

The health care giant is still accepting applications for a Health Care Ombuds / Mediator for its medical center in Antioch, CA. Since the latest posting is from the California Employment Development Department, it reveals the previously undisclosed and considerable rate of pay: $104,200 to 159,000 per year. (CalJobs.)

Prior job post: Kaiser Permanente.

February 24, 2008

New Chancellor at N.C. Central University Promises Ombuds Office

Charlie Nelms took office as the new chancellor at North Carolina Central University and immediately promised changes to raise standards for the historically black college in Durham. In addition to raising more money and creating more doctoral programs, Nelms vowed that an Ombuds office will soon start mediating employee disputes. No further details were immediately available, but the University's trustees may vote on some of Nelm's proposals as early as next week. (The News & Observer.)

February 22, 2008

Cal Poly Pomona's Interim Ombuds to Retire

Glenda Brock, who founded the Ombuds Office at the California State University two years ago, has announced that she will retire. Brock came to Cal Poly Pomona in September 1992 as an accounting professor and has filled administrative posts, culminating with her work as the interim University Ombuds. She is credited with creating an office in full compliance with IOA Standards that served the faculty, staff and students at a large, public university. Brock plans to return to her native Tennessee this spring. A national search is currently underway to find her successor. (PolyCentric.)

Prior posts: Cal Poly Pomona Debuts Ombuds Office; Job Posting.

Western Kentucky Names Interim Ombuds

WKU has appointed William M. Greer as its first, interim Ombuds. Greer will serve the faculty and staff on a trial basis for one semester. At the end of the academic year, the position will be evaluated by faculty and staff. At that time, the WKU faculty senate will consider a proposal to have separate Ombuds for faculty and staff. Greer is a member of the Psychology Department faculty and has served for two decades as the Director of the Counseling & Testing Center at WKU. (WKU Senate Minutes; Greer Bio.)

Prior posts: Western Kentucky Students Protest for Staff Ombuds; Western Kentucky University to Create Ombuds Office.

Gallaudet Appoints Ombuds

Gallaudet University has introduced Suzy Rosen Singleton as the University’s first Ombudsman. Rosen Singleton will initially focus on student matters, but will also serve as a resource for the entire Gallaudet community. The announcement from Gallaudet Provost Stephen Weiner said that Rosen Singleton’s life has been dedicated to promoting equality and better quality lives for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, their families, and colleagues. She attending Gallaudet for two years and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at UC Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA. She has 15 years of experience in disability law, at the California Center for Law and the Deaf, the National Association of the Deaf, and most recently with the Monitoring and State Improvement Planning Division of the Office of Special Education Programs in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the U.S. Department of Education. (On the Green.)

Related posts: Gallaudet to Appoint Ombuds; Gallaudet Introduces Interim Ombuds, Announces Search.

Ombuds Office at the College for Creative Studies

The private art education college in Detriot created an Ombuds for Students a year and a half ago, but their website went online only recently. The Ombuds role is currently filled by Dan Long, who also serves as the Assistant Director for Student Life. (CCS Student Ombuds.)

Texas Tech Searching for Faculty Ombuds

Texas Tech is accepting applications from retired and current faculty members to serve as a part time Faculty Ombuds. The position reports to the Provost and shares office space with the current Student and Staff Ombuds. Review of applications will begin on March 3. (Tech Announce.)

Prior post: Texas Tech Considering Faculty Ombuds.

New Ombuds Office at Augsburg College

The small, Lutheran liberal arts college in Minneapolis has created an Ombuds office for students. The office is staffed by two current students who, according to the website, practice to UCOA standards. (Augsburg Ombuds.)

SBA Ombuds Sets Second Annual Regulatory Fairness Hearing

Nicolas Owens, the National Ombudsman for the U.S. Small Business Administration, will host a second annual meeting with business and trade leaders on March 12. The event in Washington D.C. is intended to solicit feedback on unfair or excessive federal regulatory enforcement that impacts trade groups and small businesses nationwide. "The first national hearing was a great success, as groups explained the challenges their small business members face when trying to comply with regulations within their respective industries," said SBA National Ombudsman Nicholas Owens. The national hearing will also function as an information session on how SBA's Office of the National Ombudsman serves as troubleshooter for the nation's small businesses. (PR Newswire.)

Related posts: SBA Ombuds Reports to Congress on Federal Agencies; SBA Ombuds to Host Regulatory Fairness Hearing.

Update: Ontario Ombuds Office Averts Strike

Employees of the Ontario Ombudsman who are members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees ratified a labor agreement this week. The collective bargaining agreement, in effect until March 31, 2011, includes an immediate pay raise of 3.5% retroactive to April 1, 2007, another 3.5% effective April 1, 2008, plus 3.5% in each of the next two years. It also enhances health and drug benefits, and increases the work week from 35 hours to 36.25 hours. "Our investigators, intake officers, administrative and other staff work hard to help the people of Ontario," said Ombudsman Andre Marin. "I'm pleased to have an agreement that ensures they are fairly and properly recognized for that work." (Marketwire.)

Prior post: Ontario Ombuds Facing Potential Strike.

February 20, 2008

Red Cross Ombuds Unveils Video

Beverly Ortega Babers, the Corporate Ombudsman for the American National Red Cross, is the star of a new video available through the Red Cross website. Babers summarizes the history and relevance of Ombuds and explains the role of her office. Near the beginning of the three minute video, she says that, "the Ombudsman is an emerging best practice that serves as a safety net and early warning system." In addition, she emphasizes the four tenets of confidentiality, neutrality, independence and informality. (Red Cross Ombudsman Office Media Materials.)

Related posts: First Red Cross Ombuds Promises to Strengthen "Sacred Trust" With Public; Why Your Website Needs a Photo.

So far as I can tell, this is the first public video by an Ombuds and Babers has set the bar very high. The video is professional, but not over-produced, and Babers makes a great impression. Her message is direct, thorough and succinct. It will be a valuable tool for the Red Cross office and should serve as inspiration for other Ombuds. Kudos!

U Arkansas Ombuds Creates "Safe Zones" for LGBTQ Community

The Ombuds Office at the University of Arkansas has established the Safe Zone Allies Program to provide a safe environment for students and employees to share their concerns without fear of being judged based on their sexual orientation. According to Sue Theiss, Ombuds Office director, "When someone enters the office of an ally with the Safe Zone Allies logo on their door, the person entering knows the ally respects and supports equality for everyone and will listen to their concerns without judging who they are." Participants come from across campus and display the Safe Zone Allies logo, a rainbow-colored razorback, to make students aware of their participation. Theiss said the program was motivated by a UA diversity task force finding that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students do not feel a sense of inclusion. (UA Traveler.)

Related posts: U of Arkansas Office of Student Mediation Changing Name to Ombuds Office; Texas Tech Ombuds to Help Administer Student Relief Funds.

My concern is that this program (with its worthy objectives) could lead some in the UA community to question the neutrality of the Ombuds Office. It seems the University could have established the Safe Zone Program through the Division of Student Affairs instead and accomplished the same goals.

February 19, 2008

Interview: Ombuds & Director of ADR Services for National Mediation Board

Daniel Rainey, Ombudsman and Director of the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution Services for the National Mediation Board, is the subject of an interview in the current issue of Government Computer News. Given the focus of the periodical, it is natural that most of Rainey's comments address the role of technology in supporting the work of 14 mediators and 47 other staff members. Rainey also talks about his involvement with the Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group, which reports to the president on the status of ADR in the federal government. Among other things, he is also working with Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create an Ombuds office. (Government Computer News.)

Related posts: Senate Bill Would Create DOD Ombuds Office; ICANN Ombuds Explains On-Line Dispute Resolution.

Another Federal Court Relies on Immigration Ombuds' Report to Rule Against Government

For the second time in as many weeks, a federal trial court has referenced the annual report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman to rule that the FBI's immigration background check process is unreasonable. In Philadelphia last week, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson used sharp language to question the government's rationale for checking names a third time for citizenship after applicants have already been vetted in the visa and green-card stages. The report by CIS Ombuds Prakash Khatri provided the critical evidence for the court. (Philadelphia Enquirer; Mocanu v. Mueller, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10122 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 8, 2008).)

Related post: US District Court Cites Report by Immigration Ombuds; Immigration Ombuds Tenders Resignation.

Meanwhile, the mainstream press has not yet reported on the abrupt resignation of Mr. Khatri, leading some to speculate on whether he was forced to resign because his criticism of Homeland Security was too effective or whether he simply abandoned the fight. Either way, we can only hope for another principled individual to take his office.

U Kansas Ombuds to Unveil Charter Document

The Ombuds Office at the University of Kansas has a adopted a Statement of Best Practices reflecting the IOA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics in accordance with the recommendations of the International Ombudsman Association. The statement defines and clarifies the highest standards and best practices in the ombuds profession, as they apply within the context of KU and its ombuds office. At its recent meeting, the KU Senate Executive Committee voted unanimously to support the proposed Statement, which will be published soon on the office's website. (Oread.)

Related post: KU Ombuds a Top "Mover and Shaker".

ACCUO Annual Conference in May 2008

The Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons will hold its annual conference and general meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on May 28 - 30, 2008. Conference session include:
Contact Anita Pouliot or Hélène Letellier for details and registration. (ACCUO.)

Ontario Ombuds Facing Potential Strike

The 60 unionized staff of the Ontario Ombudsman office have voted 98 per cent in favor of a strike that could cripple the agency. Negotiations with the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union broke down over demands for a longer work week and the loss of five guaranteed days off in exchange for paid overtime. The union contract expired on March 31, 2007. The vote authorizes a work stoppage as early as February 18. (Toronto Star.)

Organizational ombuds should take the opportunity to consider how they would act if labor unrest threatened the function of their office.

How Systems Resist Change

Ombuds regularly learn of systemic problems and urge organizational changes. Vickie Pynchon, who writes the Settle It Now negotiation blog, is sharing thoughts on Ken Cloke's presentation to the Founding Congress of Mediators Beyond Borders on 12 Ways Systems Resist Change. Cloke categorizes resistance in the following categories:
  1. Marginalization;
  2. Negative Framing;
  3. Exaggeration;
  4. Personalization;
  5. Sentimentalization;
  6. Seduction;
  7. Alignment;
  8. Legitimization;
  9. Simplification;
  10. False Polarization;
  11. Selective Repression;
  12. Double Binds.
This is an excellent framework for ombuds to consider. (Settle It Now.)

February 15, 2008

Immigration Ombuds Tenders Resignation

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has announced the resignation of the department’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman. According to Chertoff, Prakash Khatri, the nation’s first USCIS Ombudsman, plans to return to the private sector. Since his appointment in July 2003, Khatri produced more than 70 formal recommendations and numerous informal recommendations to reform immigration benefits process, ranging from citizenship, lawful permanent residency, employment authorization, adoptions, asylum and refugee status, and foreign student authorization. (DHS Press Release.)

Related posts: US Immigration Officials Rejects Ombuds' Reform Proposal; US District Court Cites Report by Immigration Ombuds.

February 14, 2008

Southern California Ombuds Group Sets May Meeting

The next meeting of the Southern California Ombuds Group will be hosted by Tina Feiger and Lucy Kluckhohn at Santa Monica College on Friday, May 16. Details are being finalized and will be posted on the So Cal Ombuds Blog.

DC Schools Ombuds Reports on Progress

Tonya Kinlow, the newly appointed Ombuds Public Education for the District of Columbia, has established an office, hired two assistant ombuds and staff, established a webpage and started taking calls. In her first months of the job, Kinlow has also been talking with other Ombuds to learn more about the role as well as meeting with education officials and community groups. According to an initial report to the D.C. Council and the mayor, the Ombuds received 40 inquiries for assistance in December 2007. But Kinlow is hoping that the workload picks up once the public knows more about her office. (Washington Post; Ombuds for Public Education Website.)

Related post: DC Schools Appoint First Ombuds.

February 13, 2008

Office of Thrift Supervision Appoints Ombuds

The Office of Thrift Supervision has appointed Frederick R. Casteel as its new Ombudsman. Casteel joined OTS in 1989 and has been Regional Director of the OTS Midwest Region for the past 15 years. Casteel is a certified mediator and has an accounting degree from Lamar University and a law degree from the University of Houston. (OTS Press Release.)

Experts Recommend Little Rock Schools Restore Ombuds Program

A group of academic experts that evaluated the 2005 reorganization of the Little Rock School District has recommended the School Board reinstate a number of eliminated positions. Heading this list was the Ombudsman. According to LRSD documents, the budget for the Ombuds Office in 2004-05 was $106,782. (Arkansas Times; LRSD Reorg. Evaluation Report; 2006-07 Budget.)

More Thoughts on the Decline of News Ombuds

Former NPR Ombuds, Jeffrey Dvorkin, offers his perspective on the apparent decline in the numbers of newspaper ombuds. Dvorkin observes that the traditional role of news ombuds is being challenged by a new "wiki" model of on-line collaboration with readers. Nonetheless, he believes that listeners, readers and viewers want to deal with a real person, someone whose job it is to listen to their concerns.

Dvorkin points to research that supports the need for an ombuds. One study by the Guardian in London showed that the cost of litigation drops by as much as 30% when there is an ombuds on staff. Other studies have shown that having an ombuds increases credibility and community respect for the newspaper or broadcaster and that an ombuds is good for internal newsroom morale. Dvorkin also notes that support for news ombuds is coming from non-news ombuds, whose ranks are growing fast in academia, government and not-for-profits. (Salon.com.)

Related post: Are Press Ombuds In Decline?

February 12, 2008

U Washington Faces Lawsuit Despite Mediation by Ombuds

Yesterday, the Washington Appellate Court ruled that a lawsuit against the University of Washington had been improperly dismissed by the trial court. The plaintiff in the case has alleged that she was raped by a Husky football player and that UW then treated her with "deliberate indifference." In its opinion, the three-judge appeals panel cited "ample evidence" to argue before a jury that the UW tried to keep quiet the 2001 allegation by discouraging the accuser from filing a police report, opting instead for a face-to-face mediation session with the University Ombudsman.

The plaintiff was a former equipment manager for the football team. She claims that a consensual sexual relationship with Roc Alexander became increasingly abusive and culminated in an assault. Months later, the plaintiff went to the UW athletic department and reported what had happened. She was advised to step down from her position with the team to avoid harassment by any of the players. Refusing, she agreed to attend a three-hour mediation overseen by the University Ombuds, where she asked that Alexander be suspended from the football team. The plaintiff alleged that at the conclusion of the mediation, the Ombuds "decided that Alexander would undergo counseling and perform community service." The plaintiff also claimed that, although the UW has a program for sexual-assault victims, the Ombuds did not refer her to that program.

In interviews with Seattle Times, the plaintiff said the mediation was "totally biased" against her. "I think that's the thing that has stuck with me -- how [the mediation] was run and the lack of outcome." The current UW Ombuds said Monday that the UW no longer uses mediation in cases of alleged sexual assault. (S.S. v. Alexander, No. 58335-2 (Wash. Ct. App., Feb. 11, 2008); Seattle Times; Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)

The procedural posture of the case dictated that the appeals court assume the plaintiff's version of facts to be true in order to address the legal sufficiency of her claims. These facts will therefore be challenged and tested in the trial court. Nonetheless, this case is sure to raise concern among ombuds and mediators. Here are the highlowlights of the court's decision:
  • The UW Ombuds has a mandate to assist in protecting students' rights, is charged with the authority to receive complaints from students, and may recommend redress by the University President when the Ombuds has been unable to resolve the matter;
  • The decision to conduct the mediation was made by the Ombuds, the Athletic Director, and the Assistant Athletic Director;
  • The Ombuds did not disclose on-campus or off-campus resources to the plaintiff;
  • The Ombuds revealed details of her conversation with Alexander to the plaintiff before the mediation;
  • Mediation communications by the parties and the Ombuds/mediator came in to evidence (with no consideration of Washington's statutory mediation privilege);
  • The mediation was resolved by a decision by the Ombuds/mediator and the Assistant Athletic Director;
  • After the mediation, the Ombuds/mediator dictated a written statement for the plaintiff, acknowledging the matter was closed; and
  • The Ombuds was an "appropriate official" for purposes of notice under Title IX.

Ombuds can take some solace in the apparent fact that the UW program does not conform to IOA Standards of Practice and thus is not an Organizational Ombuds per se. In particular, the mandate for the UW Ombuds specifically prevents it from being neutral, impartial, and informal. Moreover, the UW Ombuds disclosed communications that Organizational Ombuds would consider confidential. However, since the court did not recognize these distinctions, this is small comfort.

Job Posting: San Diego State University

SDSU is accepting applications for a University Ombuds. As director of the office, the Ombuds works primarily with students, guiding them through the dispute resolution process and mediating disputes. Administrative duties include recruiting and training volunteer Ombuds. Applications must have at least a Bachelor's degree, three years of professional student services experience and a minimum of one year of dispute resolution experience. Review of applications will begin on Friday February 22. No salary info available. (SDSU Jobs, Job Id. No. 1505.)

Related post: New Ombuds at Princeton.

Former Kent State Ombuds Passes

Dr. James Skellenger, who once served as the University Ombudsman for Kent State University in Cleveland, passed away this week at the age of 80. (RecordPub.com.)

February 11, 2008

California Appellate Court Details Intervention by UCI Ombuds

A recently published decision by a California appellate court detailed the involvement of the Ombuds at the University of California Irvine. The case arose out of a decision by the UCI History Department denying advancement to a Ph.D. student. When the student sought assistance, the Ombuds “intervened” with the department. In an email the Ombudsman posed a number of specific questions to Department Chair,
“meant to revisit the decision in the interest of procedural fairness [regarding] first-year review and not the substance of the discussion leading to the outcome during the first-year review.” Essentially, the Ombudsman made clear he was questioning the process, and was not attempting to second-guess the academic decisions of the faculty. Many of the questions were focused on whether students were being given adequate notice of what was expected, and given the earliest possible notice of deficiencies.

The History Department renewed its recommendation that the student be awarded a terminal master's degree, but offered him a second chance on certain conditions.
Ultimately however, the student was terminated from the University and filed suit. The appellate court upheld summary judgment for UCI in part and returned a few remaining claims to the trial court. Subsequently, the case settled. (Lachtman v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 158 Cal. App. 4th 187, 70 Cal. Rptr. 3d 147, 2007 Cal. App. LEXIS 2063 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2007).)

As a published decision, this case may be cited as precedent by California courts. Although the court did not address the propriety and scope of the Ombuds' limited involvement, readers may question how the Ombuds’ email came into evidence.

Related post: UC Irvine Appoints Ombuds Office Director.

US District Court Cites Report by Immigration Ombuds

Four years after Mohammed Ahmadi filed an application to adjust his status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), the FBI still had not completed its background check. Ahmadi filed suit in U.S. District Court and alleged unreasonable delay in the processing of his application and requested that the Court compel adjudication of his application. In a decision published this week, the Court denied the Government's motion to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. The Court found that CIS's decision to wait for the FBI to complete its check may be unreasonable and pointed to the CIS Ombudsman's 2007 Annual Report to Congress. That report by Prakash Khatri said that "[T]he FBI name check process has limited value to public safety or national security, especially because in almost every case the Applicant is in the United States during the name check process, living and working without restriction." (Ahmadi v. Chertoff, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96178 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 27, 2007) [subscription required]; CIS Ombudsman's 2007 Annual Report.)

Although this decision of a trial court does not create precedent, it is reassuring to see an Ombuds report cited as credible evidence of the need for transparency and reasonableness in the Executive Branch.

Related posts: Lawsuits Seeking Immigration Reform Cite Ombuds Report; US Immigration Officials Rejects Ombuds' Reform Proposal; Immigration Ombuds Cites FBI Delays as Major Immigration Problem; Summaries of Forums Hosted by Immigration Ombuds Available Online.

UMass-Amherst Ombuds Releases Annual Report

Catharine Porter, the University Ombudsperson for the University of Massachusetts Amherst issued her 2006-07 Annual Report. According to the report, Porter's office assisted 456 faculty, students and staff with 506 matters. (Annual Report.)

Related post: UMass-Amherst Ombuds Comments on Student's Lawsuit.

Stanford Appoints Med Center Ombuds

Stanford University has appointed Keith I. Smith as Ombudsperson for the School of Medicine. Smith, who was Stanford's HR Manager for Employee & Labor Relations, will fill the position vacated by Martha McKee in early 2007. (Stanford SOM Ombuds Office; Dean's Newsletter.)

Prior job post: Stanford School of Medicine.

February 08, 2008

Update: UGA President Agrees to Consider Ombuds for Staff and Students

In response to a petition from 1,029 students and staff, University of Georgia President Michael Adams promised to form a committee to explore the possibility of creating an Ombuds Office. Adams said he had read an online petition asking for the UGA administration to take a stronger stand against sexual harassment and to be "more active, reliable and transparent" in enforcing harassment policies on the UGA campus. (Red and Black; Athens Banner-Herald.)

Prior post: University of Georgia Petitions for Staff Ombuds

Update: House Approves Bill to Create Higher Education Accreditation Ombuds

On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would toughen regulation of the student loan industry and simplify the process of applying for federal financial aid, among many other things. The House bill (H.R. 4137), known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, encompasses a broad range of issues and programs, and includes the creation of a new federal Ombudsman to intervene in disputes related to accreditation. (Inside Higher Ed; HR 4137 History; Bill Text.)

Prior post: House Bill Would Create College Accreditation Ombuds.

February 07, 2008

S&P to Hire Ombuds

Standard & Poor's, the financial services and publishing company, announced changes to bolster confidence in credit markets and the firm's analytical integrity. A highlight of the plan is the establishment of an Ombuds to address concerns about transparency and potential conflicts of interest in the rating process as well as analytical and governance processes that market participants may raise. (Wall Street Journal; Bloomberg; RTT News.)

Market pressures are pushing the financial services industry to become more responsive, transparent and ethical. These forces will certainly create additional opportunities for Organizational Ombuds. The announcement by S&P is just the latest example of the trend. (See these related posts: Job Posting at Merrill Lynch; SEC Affirms Role of NASD Ombuds; Lawyers Advised Wall Street Journal Owners to Hire Internal Ombuds; NASDAQ and Banking Lobby Endorse Ombuds for Accounting Oversight.) It would also seem that financial institutions are (or should be) reassured by existing Ombuds programs at Alliance Bernstein, American Express, The Hartford, Putnam, Royal Bank of Canada, ScotiaBank, and TD Bank Financial Group.

Hawai'i School Board Fires Ombuds

Elsbeth "Beth" McKeen who has served as the Hawai'i Board of Education Ombudsman since July 2004, claims she was terminated without explanation on January 23. According to McKeen, school board Executive Director Galen Onouye, gave her the option to resign or be fired. "It was a surprise. I was shocked," McKeen said. "I have a lot of positive feedback from people I have served." She said Onouye would tell her only that school board leaders chose to eliminate her position. McKeen said she averaged more than 300 calls each year, mostly from parents dissatisfied with how schools addressed concerns ranging from bullying to complaints about teachers. (Honolulu Star Bulletin; Hawai'i BOE Ombuds Site; Hawai'i BOE Audit Committee Minutes re Ombuds Report.)

NY Times Calls for Restoration of FOIA Ombuds

An opinion piece in today's New York Times calls on Congress to resist the President's efforts to eliminate the newly-created Ombuds for Freedom of Information Act disputes.

Rather than fulfilling Congress’s bipartisan mandate to establish the ombudsman at the respected National Archives, the Bush budget attempts a shell-game switch of the new watchdog to the Department of Justice. Mediator? This is the very administration-friendly agency already responsible for defending agencies against lawsuits by citizens denied their information requests.
* * *
The ombudsman’s independence is at the heart of repairing the information law. Congress must strike down the president’s end-run and keep the new watchdog at the National Archives, alert to the public’s understandable suspicions about its government.

NY Times.)

Prior post: Bush Defunds FOIA Ombuds Program.

February 06, 2008

IOA Announces Conference Details and Opens Registration

The 2008 International Ombudsman Association 3rd Annual Conference, "Making a Difference — The Ombudsman Impact," will be held in Boston, April 14-16, 2008. Pre-conference trainings set for April 13, include a full-day course on conflict coaching, and half-day courses on IOA Standards, interviewing skills, challenges to informality, and current legal issues. Details on keynote addresses and speaker bios are forthcoming. A commendable improvement this year is the availability of speaker presentations on-line prior to the conference. Early bird rates are available on or before Friday, March 14, 2008. (IOA 2008 Annual Conference.)

February 05, 2008

University of Georgia Petitions for Staff Ombuds

Hundreds of staff and students at the University of Georgia are calling for administrators to become "more active, reliable and transparent" in enforcing sexual harassment policies. The petition, which has already garnered more than 700 signatures, calls on UGA to establish a campus ombuds office to help "contribute to a shift in campus culture" and provide information and help to staff and students who have been harassed. The petition was precipitated by mounting complaints against a UGA professor who has been accused of sexually harassing female undergraduates for nearly two decades and the university's decision to allow the professor to continue teaching. The petition likely will be presented at Thursday's meeting of UGA's University Council, a faculty legislative body that advises UGA President Michael Adams on policy. (Athens Banner-Herald; Chronicle of Higher Ed.; UGA Community Petition.)

Related post: University of Georgia Names Ombuds.

Update: Bush Defunds FOIA Ombuds Program

Missing from the President's 2009 budget is funding for the newly-enacted Freedom of Information Act Ombuds. The ombuds office at the National Archives and Records Administration was seen as the centerpiece of legislation passed by Congress last year and signed by Bush on Deccember 31. The budget confirmed fears that the White House had eliminated the job at the archives transferred responsibility for FOIA dispute resolution to the Justice Department.

Daniel J. Metcalfe, who ran the DOJ Office of Information and Privacy before retiring voiced his concern. “Ironically, this is so transparent: OMB and Justice seek to avoid complying with this FOIA amendment by instead merely proposing its alteration, and through an appropriations process that of course won’t conclude until near the end of the year, if even by then,” Metcalfe said. “Meanwhile, existing law is flouted, a terrible example is set for FOIA implementation, and ‘the clock is run out’ by this administration. Congress should see through this and not tolerate it.” (Austin American-Statesman; GovernmentExecutive.com.)

Prior posts: Are Ombuds the Solution to FOIA Disputes?; Coalition Advocates Federal FOIA Ombuds; Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President;

February 04, 2008

New Ombuds at Princeton

After two years as the Ombuds for San Diego State University, D.A. Graham has announced he will step down February 15 to become the Associate Ombuds at Princeton University. "It's been wonderful," Graham said. "SDSU has been a very rewarding experience because of the professional staff and faculty that I have had the opportunity to work with. Specifically, I enjoyed working for student needs and achieving monumental mediations and significant policy changes as well. This decision was a hard one." Graham will fill the position vacated by Nick Deihl who moved to the National Institutes of Health. (SDSUniverse; The Daily Princetonian.)

Related Job Post: Princeton.

Ombuds for Graduate Students at Virginia Tech

On April 25, 2007, just days after tragedy struck the campus, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University announced the creation of the Graduate Student Ombudsperson's office and the appointment of Ennis McCrery. McCrery earned her MFA candidate in poetry from Virginia Tech and has served as the Graduate Representative to the Board of Visitors, the governing authority for the University. This week, the website for her office went on line. (VT Grad School Announcement; VT English Dept Newsletter; VT Grad Student Ombuds Website.)

February 01, 2008

Persistent Complaints to Ombuds Offices

Kiwi mediator Geoff Sharp (who writes the popular blog "mediator blah...blah...") recently forwarded a paper by Professor John McMillan, the Commonwealth Ombudsman for Australia. The paper, "Persistent Complaints to Ombudsman Offices" was presented at the 2006 National Administrative Law Forum in Australia in June 2006. The work of classical ombuds in Austrialia differs fundamentally from that of organizational ombuds. Nonetheless, ombuds of all types spend a disproportionate amount of time working with querulent visitors.

Professor McMillan identifies five different causes of problem behavior: unreasonable persistence, unreasonable demands, unreasonable lack of cooperation, unreasonable arguments, and unreasonable behavior. He urges that ombuds offices implement flexible strategies to deal effectively with unreasonable visitor conduct and retain control over the ombuds process. (
AIAL 2006 Administrative Law Forum Papers.)