July 31, 2008

Update: House Approves VA Ombuds Bill

By unanimous vote, the U.S. House approved H.R. 2192 to establish a confidential Ombuds Office in the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans and their family members for health care and benefits issues. Apparently, Representatives were not dissuaded by the VA's opposition to the bill. The measure was sent to the Senate and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for further consideration. (OpenCongress.org; H.R. 2192 status.)

Prior post: Veterans Ombuds Bill Sent to House Floor.

Cal State San Bernardino Ombuds Issues First Annual Report

The Office of Ombuds Services at the California State University San Bernardino has released its first annual report for the 2007-2008 academic year. According to University Ombuds Tera Bisbee, the office had 201 visitors, primarily students. Intervention was required in 51% of cases. (CSUSB Ombuds Report.)

Related post: Cal State San Bernardino Appoints Ombuds.

West Texas A&M Opens Ombuds Office

West Texas A&M University has created an Ombuds program for students. Casey Garrett, who has worked in student affairs was appointed as the first Ombuds. (WTAMU Ombuds.)

July 30, 2008

Job Posting: FINRA

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (the successor to the National Association of Securities Dealers) is seeking a Senior Director for its Ombudsman Office. The position reports functionally to the Audit Committee and administratively to the Senior Vice President & Chief Audit Executive. The Senior Director handles issues related to FINRA's internal and external activities and manages the office in compliance with the Ombuds principles of neutrality, confidentiality and independence. An advanced degree or professional certification in dispute resolution is preferred, and applicants should have a minimum of eight years experience in a managerial position. Experience as an investigator and/or analyst, preferably in a securities regulatory environment, is also desired. No salary or closing date indicated. (FINRA Jobs.)

Related post: SEC Affirms Role of NASD Ombuds.

Update: Accreditation Ombuds Dropped from Higher Ed Bill

After seven years of effort, U.S. House and Senate negotiators have resolved differences and agreed on a bill to amend and extend the Higher Education Act of 1965. The 1,158-page legislation is expected to reach the House and Senate floors on Thursday. In the process, a provision of the House version that would have created a federal Ombuds to resolve accreditation disputes was omitted. (Chronicle of Higher Ed.; Text of H.R. 4137.)

Prior post: Higher Ed Bill Held Up, Accreditation Ombuds Proposal Unresolved.

July 29, 2008

Boise State Hires First Ombuds

Boise State University has appointed Rob Anson, a professor in the College of Business, as its first faculty Ombuds. Anson earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of Washington and an MBA and Doctorate from Indiana University. He has taught at Boise State since 1990 and has been leading the effort to implement a university-side information system. This will be a half-time position and Anson will continue to teach. (BSU Update; Anson Vita.)

Volunteer Ombuds Settle Thousands of National Guard Reemployment Disputes

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Right Act of 1994 protects the employment, salary, benefits and status for service personnel who return to their employer after deployment. However, the Department of Defense's office of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) receives tens of thousands of inquiries a year regarding the law. Fortunately, most cases are resolved quickly, thanks in part to the efforts of ESGR Ombudsman Services. The program depends on nearly 900 volunteer Ombudsmen, who attempt to mediate cases within 14 days. Dave Patel, ESGR director of national operations, says that Ombuds mediations help both returning service men and women and their employers to avoid charges by the U.S. Department of Labor or private civil actions. (Human Resource Executive; ESGR Ombudsman Services.)

Related: Job Posting.

July 28, 2008

Ombuds of Texas Summer Meeting

The Ombuds of Texas will meet on August 18 in Austin for a day-long meeting hosted by the Texas General Land Office. The event will include networking opportunities and a facilitated discussion about the future of the group. (Ombuds of Texas.)

University of Tennessee Health Science Center Considering Ombuds Program

For over a year, the UTHSC faculty senate has been working on a proposal to be presented to the Interim Chancellor to establish an Ombuds program. The past-president of the senate has attended IOA training in Seattle and visited the Ombuds Office at the University of Washington. A senate subcommittee also met with an Ombuds from Columbia University. (UTHSC Faculty Senate Minutes: 5/8/07; 9/11/07.)

Related job post: University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Links to Law School ADR Programs

John Lande of the University of Missouri-Columbia Law School has compiled a list of 42 law school alternative dispute resolution programs in the United States. (Mediate.com.)

July 26, 2008

Update: Philadelphia School District to Hire Eleven Ombuds

To reduce the bureaucratic maze facing parents, the Philadelphia School District is adding an Ombuds to each of the district's regional offices. The Ombuds, promised by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in April, will "address the needs of parents as they arrive" at a regional office to ensure that the district and the parent can work together to meet the child's needs. Although the the Ombuds are part of a larger reorganization plan to be implemented before school starts in the fall, details of a search have not been released. (Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia Daily News.)

Prior post: Philly Schools Chief Promises Ombuds Program.

July 25, 2008

University of Ottawa Considering Ombuds Program

Students unhappy over a proposed code of nonacademic conduct at the University of Ottawa are supporting number of administrative reforms, including the hiring of an Ombuds for the university. At a senate meeting on May 5, outgoing President Gilles Patry acknowledged the university’s openness to consider an Ombuds program, which students have hailed as a small victory in the movement against the code. Further action on the Ombuds proposal is not expected until September. (The Fulcrum; U of Ottawa Senate Minutes [Google translation]).

July 24, 2008

Two New Ombuds at University of Miami

The University of Miami recently appointed John F. Barker as Ombuds for academic issues and Dr. Gail Cole-Avant as Ombuds for non-academic issues. Barker is completing his Ph.D. in Higher Education at the University of Rochester and also serves as the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education. Dr. Cole-Avent earned her Masters from UCLA and her Doctorate in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia. (The Miami Hurricane; UMiami Parent Handbook.)

Related post: Interim Ombuds at U Miami.

Higher Ed Bill Held Up, Accreditation Ombuds Proposal Unresolved

Congress continues to work on a long-delayed bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. With only a few weeks of floor time remaining, negotiations are now focused on the role of state funding, and new programs for historically black colleges and universities. The House proposal for a higher education accreditation Ombuds remains an unresolved issue; the Senate version does not include the provision. (Chronicle of Higher Ed.; Inside Higher Ed.; CHEA Comparison Table; Bill Status: H.R. 4137; S. 1642.)

Prior post: House Approves Bill to Create Higher Education Accreditation Ombuds.

Job Posting: South Pointe Hospital

South Pointe, a Cleveland Clinic hospital, is hiring an Ombuds for customer relations issues. The posting states: "Through mediation and negotiation, the ombudsman ensures a positive working relationship between physicians, staff, patients, and their families in order to support and maintain the highest quality of patient standards." A Bachelor’s degree and at least three years of health care or advocacy experience (e.g. mediation, negotiation, problem resolution and program development) are required. No closing date or salary indicated. (CampusRN.)

Prior Cleveland Clinic job posts: Main Campus; East Region; Florida.

July 23, 2008

Update: Veterans Ombuds Bill Sent to House Floor

By voice vote on July 16, the House Veterans Affairs Committee passed H.R. 2192 to create the Office of the Ombudsman in the Department of Veterans Health Administration. The bill is now scheduled for debate on the House floor. (OhMyGov; PolitickerNH; H.R. 2192 Status.)

Prior post: House Bill Would Create VA Ombuds Office.

DC Schools Ombuds Reports Growing Case Load

Tonya Kinlow, the District of Columbia Ombuds for Public Education, has begun to issue monthly reports summarizing cases. This year, the Ombuds has responded to 68 visitors in February, 92 in April, and 86 in May. (A report for March 2008 is not available on-line.) Most of the issues have been student-focused, especially regarding communication, safety and suspension/truancy. In addition, Kinlow has continued outreach efforts with community organizations and has developed a public service announcement that is running on a local cable station. (DC Public Education Ombuds Reports for Feb. 2008, Apr. 2008, May 2008.)

Related post: DC Schools Ombuds Reports on Progress.

July 22, 2008

Seizing the Opportunity of Professionalization

The latest issue of Dispute Resolution magazine includes a provocative article by David A. Hoffman, who co-edited Bringing Peace into the Room. His discussion of professionalization will resonate with IOA members considering certification:
The challenge ... is nothing less than defining the nature and scope of our field. While we engage in a robust debate over whether professionalization of our field will be helpful or harmful, we get closer every year to becoming a profession. The fundamental characteristics of a profession include a recognized body of knowledge, an agreed-upon set of skills, and a mechanism (such as a certification board) for defining who is in and who is out.
* * *
The problem here is that if we do not develop sophisticated mechanisms for credentialing in our field, clumsy legislative or regulatory attempts will be made by those outside the field or those seeking to enter it. The opportunity that invites us – and has been inviting us for some time – is to strike the right balance between rigorous standards on the one hand and openness to innovation on the other.
* * *
With experience from ... accrediting basic training programs and certifying advanced level practitioners[,] the ... field might then be ready for the challenging task of setting baseline entry-level requirements that will protect the public while at the same time holding the door open for people of all backgrounds. If we seize this opportunity to define our own field, and go about the task remembering that we have more in common than what separates us, I believe we will succeed in staving off the occasional attempt of people outside the field to tell us how to do our work.

Although these arguments sound familiar, Hoffman is not describing Ombuds, but mediators. (The Future of ADR, via Boston Law Collaborative; See also mediator blah...blah...)

Job Posting: University of Texas Medical Branch

UMTB is seeking an Ombuds to provide confidential and informal assistance to the faculty of its Galveston campus. Applicants must have a Masters degree and have held a faculty appointment in a university outside of UTMB. No salary or closing date indicated. (UMTB Jobs, job id. no. 12835, via HotJobs.)

Canada Post Names New Ombuds

The Canadian postal authority has appointed Nicole Goodfellow as its Ombudsman for a three-year term. Goodfellow has worked for Canada Post for 30 years and most recently was General Manager, Human Performance Excellence. She earned an MBA from the University of Western Ontario and Bachelors degrees in both Linguistics and Slavic Studies from Ottawa University. Among her many interests, she takes great pride in supporting under-privileged primary school children in Nairobi, Kenya. For the past 5 years, she has also been Canada Post's representative on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Goodfellow replaces Michel Tremblay who retired after serving as the Ombuds since September 2002. (MarketWatch.)

July 21, 2008

Tarion Creating Ombuds Program for Home Buyers

Tarion, the independent corporation that administers Ontario's New Home Warranty Plan, is creating a new executive-level Ombuds position to deal with consumer complaints. "We certainly came to the conclusion that Tarion has to be more open to consumers and has to have someone for them to reach out to," said Tarion's president and CEO Howard Bogach. The ombudsperson will not only mediate homeowner's complaints, but will be asked to suggest any changes in policy or practice that may be needed, Bogach said. News of the job posting comes just weeks after a stinging 16-page report from provincial Ombudsperson André Marin. (Toronto Star.)

Job Posting: Tarion

An executive search firm has launched a search for a candidate to start by early September and will report directly to the CEO. No closing date or salary indicated. (
Job Post.)

Interview: Scotiabank Jamaica Ombuds

Rosemarie Voordouw, the director of Ombuds services for the Bank of Nova Scotia, Jamaica, is the subject of an interview in Jamaica's daily broadsheet. Voordouw says that her job is very rewarding and affords satisfaction, especially when individuals grow and are able to tackle challenges and surmount them. "I am a firm believer that happier people deliver a better product. People who know how to manage stress will function better as they find ways to manage their job functions," she said. Voordouw explains that Ombuds services is an emerging area with many corporations seeing the benefits of having trained counselors on staff. (Jamaica Gleaner.)

Online Certificate in Interfaith Conflict Resolution

The United States Institute of Peace is now offering a free online course in interfaith conflict resolution. This course was created in response to a need expressed by a wide range of professionals in the field of conflict management and is not limited to lay leaders and clergy. The program is based on the conviction that faith traditions offer significant resources for healing broken relationships at the personal, community, national and international levels; and that these resources, combined with skills in conflict resolution, equip leaders of faith communities to become effective managers of conflict. The course is free and participants can earn a certificate. (USIP via Campus ADR-Weblog.)

Science Validates Calming Techniques

Research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience has shown support for calming techniques used by Ombuds and other ADR professionals. The technique, called cognitive reappraisal, calms the amygdala so the mind can switch from being reactive to reflective. Cognitive reappraisal is a coping strategy in which patients are taught to monitor and evaluate negative thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts and images. In addition to reappraisal, Columbia professor Kevin Ochsner, Ph.D., offers other tips to calm fear: Step outside yourself; Control your cues; and Track your feelings. Blogger and mediator, Stephanie Allen West provides a lay person's summary and links to the research. (Brains on Purpose.)

July 20, 2008

Job Posting: Reyerson University

The 24,000 student public university in Toronto, Canada is accepting applications for an assistant Ombuds. Applicants should have three years of experience in conflict resolution or a related field; a master’s degree in conflict resolution or a related subject; and experience in a University setting. This is a full-time position requiring a 35-hour work week. No salary indicated. Applications are due by July 28. (Posting via University of Western Ontario Ombuds Office.)

Related post: Ryerson Ombuds Blames Professors for Rising Misconduct Charges.

July 18, 2008

Berkeley Ombuds for Students Retires

Carmen McKines, the University of California Berkeley's Ombuds for students and postdoctoral appointees, retired last month. The university commemorated her 40-year career with its highest honor, the Berkeley Citation. After serving as Berkeley's first full-time Title IX compliance officer from 1989 to 2002, McKines became a staff Ombuds before helping to expand the Ombuds office for students and postdocs in 2003. She was aptly described as having "an ambassador’s diplomacy, a referee’s fairness, and a psychotherapist’s discretion." (UC Berkeley News.)

Related post: UC Berkeley Internal Job Posting.

Update: A careful and knowledgeable reader points out that the Berkeley student Ombuds office was actually opened in the 1970's. McKines' immediate predecessor, Kathleen Dickson, was in the position for many years and an active leader for Cal Caucus. When Dickson retired, McKines secured better office space and improved many other aspects of the office.

July 17, 2008

Job Posting: The Hartford

The Fortune 100 investment and insurance company is hiring an Ombudsman to provide confidential and impartial coaching and counsel to employees and applicants regarding workplace complaints and other work-related issues. The Connecticut-based position is expected to ensure Ombuds office protocols and practices align with the International Ombudsman Association’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. However, 40% of the job responsibility is HR policy and protocol development. A minimum of seven years of HR generalist or employee relations experience in a large corporation is required. No salary or closing date indicated. (The Hartford Jobs.)

Temple University Partially Adopts IOA Standards

In May 2008, the Temple University College of Education implemented a student grade appeal system that references the informal services of a confidential and neutral student Ombuds. The policy specifically states that "The Ombudsperson will act in accordance with the International Ombudsperson [sic] Association’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics," and will be encouraged to seek training and support through IOA. (TU Student Grade Appeals; TU School of Ed. Ombuds.) However, other Temple Ombuds are given responsibility for administering formal student grievances. (See, e.g., TU College of Science & Tech and Dept. of Political Science.)

USOA Annual Conference in Lexington

The United States Ombudsman Association will hold its 29th Annual Conference in Lexington, Kentucky from September 29 through October 3, 2008. This year's meeting, "From the Starting Gate to the Finish Line: Ombudsmen and the Race for Excellence," features a number of programs of interest for organizational Ombuds, including:
  • A Pre-Conference Workshop on High Conflict Personalities;
  • Concurrent Session #1A, "And They're Off - Ombudsmen at the Starting Gate" (a workshop on launching a new Ombuds office);
  • Concurrent Session #2C, "The Steeplechase – Cross-Cultural Awareness" (a session on negotiating cultural hurdles and identifying biases);
  • Plenary Session "Down the Home Stretch - Evaluating Ombudsman Operations and Establishing Performance Measures" (an overview of strategic business planning for small Ombuds offices co-presented by Frank Fowlie);
  • Concurrent Session #2D, "Win, Place or Show - The Why and How of Estimating Ombudsman Value Via Surveys" (an interactive session examining current survey practices for generating a programmatic value return estimate presented by John W. Zinsser);
  • Concurrent Session #1E, "The Ombudsman Superfecta - Common Ground Panel (a panel discussion among representatives of various Ombudsman organizations regarding the things that unite and divide us, and how we can build on the strengths of our professions).
The fee for registration submitted by August 22 is $425 for USOA members and $500 for non-members. (USOA Conf. Info.)

How Important Are Appearances for Ombuds

Diane Levin posts a provoking piece about the effect of appearance in negotiation. She was inspired by an article in an online magazine that urges women to present themselves in a way that will look good to the other party. Levin argues that a professional appearance and listening to your counterpart are much more important for a successful negotiation. Moreover, she is left uneasy by the emphasis on a woman’s appearance. "Behind it lurks a whole array of social justice issues uncomfortable to discuss but urgent for us to face." (Mediate.com.)

I agree with Levin's emphasis on listening over appearance and concern about social justice issues facing women in negotiation. As an Ombuds, I am personally concerned about the impact of a first appearance. Like most Ombuds since I work with visitors who vary widely in age, education, income, ethnicity, gender identity, etc. It would be impossible and disingenuous for me to attempt to mimic the attributes of the individuals with whom I interact. I find it more important to dress in a way that reflects that I am comfortable with myself, neutral in my outlook and serious about my work. My only “accessory” is a trustworthy pen. That being said, I do keep a jacket and tie handy for mediations, presentations and meetings with top administrators. I would interested in hearing readers' thoughts on these issues.

Related post: Gender Differences in Negotiating.

July 16, 2008

Mortgage Crisis Draws in Ombuds

Articles in many US newspapers on the federal takeover of IndyMac Bank featured a picture of Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Ombuds Robert Brown distributing forms to a mob of unhappy depositors in Encino, CA. (USA Today.) In related financial news, Sam Golden, a former Ombuds for the Comptroller of the Currency was widely quoted on Citigroup's mortgage accounting practices. (Bloomberg News.)

Details of 35th Annual Cal Caucus

The California Caucus of College and University Ombuds has announced the details of its annual meeting at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, CA, on November 16-19, 2008. The theme is “The Synergy and Adventure of Ombudsing” and the conference will include workshops, presentations, case studies, and panels of Ombuds leadership. CCCUO is recruiting volunteers for committees and as presenters and facilitators. For more details, contact the conveners Jim Oldani (oldani1[at-sign]llnl[dot]gov) or Donna Clark (dmclark[at-sign]uci[dot]edu) or visit the CCCUO Wiki. (CCCUO Flyer; CCCUO Wiki.)

Related posts: Cal Caucus (34th) Annual Conference in Pacific Grove; Journal of the CCCUO Calls for Papers.

13 Conflict Tools

Professional mediator Lee Jay Berman offers a succinct list of tips for resolving conflict in the workplace, with customers and in life:
  1. Stay Calm;
  2. Listen to Understand;
  3. Accentuate the Positive;
  4. State Your Case Tactfully;
  5. Attack the Problem, Not the Person;
  6. Avoid the Blame Game;
  7. Focus on the Future, Not the Past;
  8. Ask the Right Kind of Questions;
  9. Pick Your Battles;
  10. Link Offers;
  11. Be Creative;
  12. Be Confident; and
  13. Celebrate Agreement!
His article would be an excellent handout for Ombuds to give to individual visitors or to supplement presentations and trainings. (Mediate.com.)

July 15, 2008

Senate Approves Funding for New FOIA Ombuds Office

Following an earlier vote by the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved $1 million to fund a new Ombuds office for Freedom of Information Act disputes. The office, known as the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), will be placed at the National Archives and Records Administration. The Bush administration provoked outrage earlier this year when it proposed eliminating funding for the office and moving it from the National Archives to the Department of Justice. Under the new FOIA amendments enacted into law, OGIS has responsibility for providing mediation services as an alternative to litigation in FOIA disputes. OGIS also has authority to review agency compliance with FOIA requirements and recommend policy changes to Congress. (77 U.S.L.W. 2043; Sen. Leahy Comment.)

Related posts: Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President; White House Seeks to Move FOIA Ombuds to Justice Dept.; Bush Defunds FOIA Ombuds Program; NY Times Calls for Restoration of FOIA Ombuds.

National Taxpayer Advocate Plans Study of Federal Ombuds

In her annual report to Congress, Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, outlined an ambitious set of objectives for the 2009 fiscal year. The report, which is not subject to any review by the IRS, Treasury or OMB, reveals that the National Taxpayer Advocate has surveyed federal external and internal Ombuds and plans further analysis in the coming fiscal year. Already, the National Taxpayer Advocate has made a number of critical observation about existing federal Ombuds programs:
  • Most federal Ombuds do not have independent counsel, budgetary control or reporting relationships and thus lack sufficient independence;
  • Many Ombuds have administrative obligations or cannot obtain information which impair actual or perceived impartiality; and
  • Most Ombuds rely on their agency to respond to FOIA requests which may dissuade visitors.
In addition to further study, "the National Taxpayer Advocate and her staff will work with other federal agency ombudsmen to promote standards for these offices and seek to incorporate those standards into a Federal Agency Ombudsman Act." (NTA FY 2009 Objectives.)

SBA Ombuds Offers Model for State and Local Goverment Offices

Nicholas Owens, the National Ombuds for the Small Business Administration, has released a summary of best practices and resources for state and local governments considering Ombuds programs. The report includes an overview of the SBA Ombuds program, including useful forms, relevant Federal statute and USOA model legislation. (New Mexico Business Weekly; SBA Small Business Ombuds Model.)

This is an excellent outreach tool for classical Ombuds. The SBA program is well-established and highly visible, and thus a credible proponent of the USOA model. Owens should be commended for his efforts as a leader, not just for classical Ombuds, but the ADR field in general.

Update: Little Rock School District Offers Settlement to Former Ombuds

Two weeks into a trial, the Little Rock School Board has proposed a settlement with its former Ombuds, James Washington, and three other employees who sued for racial and gender discrimination. Washington claimed that former superintendent Roy Brooks wrongfully eliminated the Ombuds position in a district-wide reorganization. He is now a teacher. If the four plaintiffs accept the settlement, which the district's attorney thinks they will, then they will sign one year contracts that would include back pay and stipends to compensate them for having worked lower-paying jobs. There no indication that the district will reinstate the Ombuds office, despite the recommendation of an outside expert earlier this year. (THV Little Rock.)

Prior Posts: Court Allows Ombuds' Lawsuit Against Little Rock Superintendent; Experts Recommend Little Rock Schools Restore Ombuds Program.

July 12, 2008

SBA Ombuds' Annual Report Acknowledges Cooperative Agencies

This week, the Small Business Administration Ombuds issued its annual report to Congress which rates federal agencies responsiveness to small business concerns. Ombuds Nicholas Owens cited the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit among the least responsive to regulatory and compliance issues during fiscal 2007. The 80-page commended six agencies for their regulatory compliance assistance and willingness to work with the Ombuds office: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the departments of Transportation and Commerce. (Washington Post; SBA Ombuds 2007 Report.)

Explained: UC Santa Barbara Ombuds

The Ombuds office at the University of California, Santa Barbara was the subject of a recurring column in the local paper: Weird SB. Aside from this unwanted label, the article is positive and offers this description:
Anyone who has ever longed for a real person to speak to, instead of an automated system or a faceless bureaucracy, has actually been wishing for the services of an ombud — whether they knew it or not.
(Santa Barbara Independent.)

Priscilla Mori responds: "Thanks for the attention." (SB Ind.)

July 11, 2008

Advice on Keeping Members

Diane Levin at the Mediation Channel has posted an open letter for ADR professionals everywhere, with some advice on how to keep, not drive away, members:
  • First, provide your members with useful information that helps them do their jobs;
  • Second, provide value for those membership dues with regular programming in a variety of locations;
  • Third, make sure that any increase in dues is fair;
  • Third, provide discounts and services;
  • Fourth, communicate with members regularly and reliably;
  • Fifth, respond to member inquiries, questions, and concerns promptly; and
  • Sixth, show appreciation to volunteers.
Do these things, Levin says, and members will renew and encourage others to join. (Mediation Channel.)

Although Levin's thoughtful letter is aimed at organizations for mediators/arbitrators (e.g., The Association for Conflict Resolution), it offers some valuable reminders for organizations that serve Ombuds too.

July 09, 2008

Army Launches Online Ombuds Program

The U.S. Army and the the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed an online system for U.S. soldiers seeking treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other Army medical facilities. With funding from the eBay Foundation and support from the National Mediation Board, UMass created a prototype online Ombudsman access portal that allows individuals to ask questions, post replies, or simply provide information to the Army Ombudsman. Ethan Katsh, UMass professor of legal studies at UMass and director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, says the system is a safe, effective and confidential means of augmenting the existing advocacy program that is neutral and outside the chain of command. The online Ombudsman portal allows patients, family members, doctors, staff and the public to communicate with the Army Ombudsman anonymously. The Army’s online portal is expected to go online during the summer. (Newswise; NCTDR; ABA Journal.)

A critical issue for organizational Ombuds is balancing the need to embrace electronic communications while preserving confidentiality and avoiding creating a record. Because the problem is so daunting, many Ombuds simply choose to avoid email and other electronic communications. Ombuds will therefore be watching the Army's program closely to see if this is a viable solution.

Related posts: International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution; Senate Bill Would Create DOD Ombuds Office; Ombuds Not Exempt From Influence of Internet.

Job Posting: United Nations

The UN has posted two more Ombuds positions. The latest postings are for Case Officers in Kinshasa and Khartoum. (These offices each comprise a Regional Ombuds, a Case Officer and a Programme Assistant; the prior posting was for the Regional Ombuds.) Applications are due by August 30. (UN HR.)

July 08, 2008

ACR Conference Prominently Features Ombuds

Several Ombuds are slated to speak at the Association for Conflict Resolution Eight Annual Conference, set for September 24 through 27 in Austin, TX:
  • Mini-Plenary 6 "Addressing the Needs of Soldiers and Their Families: Conflict Resolution Responses to Returnee Issues" will cover the development of the ombuds program at Walter Reed and the Army Medical Command by panelists including Daniel Rainey;
  • Workshop 1.03 "The Ombuds as Student: Using What We Learn" is a structured discussion about lessons learned through work as Ombuds, led by Wayne Blair and Laurie Mesibov;
  • Workshop 2.10 "Development, History and Outcomes for Successful Ombuds Office in World-Renowned University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Institute," will review the lessons learned in the creation of an Ombuds program, by Anu Rao and William Brock; and
  • Workshop 6.02 "Ombudsman Applications Within Public Institutions - Alive and Well!" will feature the heads of Ombuds programs for a state office, a city, a school district; and, a state youth commission.
(ACR Conference Info.)

UC Riverside Launches Externship Program

Office of the Ombudsman at the University of California, Riverside has launched an externship program. Soraiya Campbell, who is finishing her Masters in Dispute Resolution at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, is expected to start this week for a summer-long externship. As an extern, Campbell will shadow the University Ombudsman Indu Sen, see visitors and follow up on cases, and assist the office develop conflict resolution programs, among other duties. The UCR Ombuds office is following a similar externship format as the UC Irvine Ombuds office by providing externs with a structure yet the independence to find their own practice style.

Related posts: UC Riverside Appoints Ombuds; Profile of UC Riverside Ombuds.

Job Posting: Dept. of Defense

The Defense Human Resources Activity is hiring a Program Analyst for the Ombudsman Directorate in Arlington, VA. The position is essentially a case manager and national Ombuds for the agency's military employment and reenlistment issues. A primary duty will be coordinating 300 volunteer Ombuds who interface directly with Military Reserve and National Guard service members and civilian employers. Knowledge of military culture and the Uniformed Services Employment, and Reemployment Rights Act in particular, are required. In addition, applicants must have, "Extensive knowledge of the requirements to perform Ombudsman duties (Mediation) and responsibilities." Salary ranges from $47,639 to $107,854 per annum. Applications are due July 14. (Federal Government Jobs, vacancy no. DHRA-08-196437.)

July 05, 2008

Ohio U. Selects Interim Ombuds

Merle Graybill has been named interim Ombuds for Ohio University for a one-year period. Graybill has worked for Ohio University since 1993, and currently serves as director of campus-community engagement in the College of Education. For more than 20 years, she was in private practice as a curriculum consultant and trainer in the areas of adult education, diversity, leadership, conflict resolution and management. Graybill earned her B.S. in Psychology from Union Institute and a M.Ed. in Educational Administration from Ohio University. She is also a licensed social worker. Elizabeth Graham, who has been the University Ombuds for the past six years, returns to her position as a professor in the School of Communication Studies. (OU Outlook; Athens Messenger; OU Profile.)

Related post: Ohio U. Ombuds Issues Annual Report and Considers Adopting IOA Reporting Categories.

July 03, 2008

New Ombuds Program at Coastal Carolina U.

Coastal Carolina University has appointed Charmaine Tomczyk as its first Faculty Ombuds, effective August 1. Tomczyk currently serves as Coastal's associate director of Library Services and has previously been the faculty senate chair and associate vice president for academic affairs. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in library science from Southern Connecticut State University. Already, she has joined IOA's Professional Ethics, Standards and Best Practices Committee. Tomczyk will serve as Coastal's Faculty Ombuds on a trial basis for 18 months. (Coastal Newsletter; Faculty Profile; Faculty Task Force Report.)

Immigration Ombuds Issues Annual Report

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman has released its 2008 report to Congress addressing "progress in resolving long-pending FBI name checks, and the unusually large 2007 summer surge of approximately three million applications sent to USCIS." The Ombudsman makes ten specific recommendations for the immigration system. (USCIS Annual Report, via Immigration Daily.)

Related posts: Profile of New Immigration Ombuds; Summaries of Forums Hosted by Immigration Ombuds Available Online; Annual Report Round-Up.

Complaint Letters Are More Effective Than Email

Many Ombuds coach visitors to write effective letters detailing their concerns and requesting a remedy. (See examples from MIT, Ohio Univ., and UNC.) Blogger Margaret Garcia-Couoh suggests that "The Letter Always Wins" over email or other methods. (Wise Bread.) This advice is especially true if supporting documents can be attached.

Related post: Using Email in Dispute Resolution.

July 02, 2008

Trendspotting: Online Bullying an Emerging Issue for Ombuds

Recent articles indicate that virtual bullying will an important issue for organizational Ombuds:

Researchers at UCLA have been startled by the "seemingly innumerable" ways that children bully and cheat each other in virtual worlds. UCLA doctoral student Deborah Fields, who wrote the paper with professor Yasmin Kafai, said players were much more willing to engage in behavior that they wouldn't in the real world. "I don't think they feel monitored," she said. "It's way less monitoring than they probably have in school from just the presence of a teacher." (LA Times.)

Other children are not the only victims. Teachers have faced online bullying through social networking sites Facebook and Bebo. A Childnet International Report has recommended that teachers should be taught how to use social networking sites effectively as part of their pupils' education. (ATL News.)

These young bullies eventually become part of the workforce with dire consequences. In March, University of Manitoba researchers reported that the emotional toll of workplace bullying is more severe than that of sexual harassment. (From the Playground to the Boardroom: Workplace Bullies.

Twelve years ago, University of Massachusetts professor and Director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution Ethan Katsch predicted the need for Ombuds to be ready for conflict arising from virtual environments. (The Online Ombuds Office: Adapting Dispute Resolution to Cyberspace.) He suggested the need for online Ombuds offices staffed by people familiar with dispute resolution and technical expertise. He proposed specific ways to facilitate communications, while protecting the confidentiality of the process.

Yet so far there are no virtual Ombuds offices and few that offer any online services. Indeed, most Ombuds websites serve only to disseminate information and do not permit dialog. It seems clear that Ombuds eventually will be obligated to be more responsive to virtual bullying. The only questions are "How?" and "When?"

Related posts: Ombuds Not Exempt From Influence of Internet; Study Finds Workplace Bullying Widespread; ICANN Ombuds Explains On-Line Dispute Resolution; International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution.

New Website for California Caucus

Larry Wichter is hosting an unofficial wiki with information about the California Caucus of Colleges and University Ombuds. A highlight of the website is information about CCCUO's 35th annual conference set for November 16-19, 2008, at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California. The site also has information for the CCCUO Journal, which is now accepting manuscripts. (CCCUO Wiki.)

Related post: Journal of the CCCUO Calls for Papers.

July 01, 2008

Profile of National Grid Ombuds

Kenny Moore left the priesthood 23 years ago and eventually became the Corporate Ombuds for Keyspan. The company was acquired last summer by National Grid, one of the world's largest energy providers. The story of his work with the CEO of Keyspan was the basis of a best-selling business book in 2004. Moore easily reconciles his Corporate Ombuds work with his religious philosophy:
From a business point, a person using their gifts contributes to the bottom line," Moore said. "From a theological point of people using their gifts contribute to common good and betterment of the world."

A company's success is not just measured by profitability, Moore said, but the emotional and spiritual health of its employees. The article also includes a brief history of the Ombuds profession provided by IOA Board member Judy Bruner. (North Jersey Record.)

Moore enunciates the difficulty Ombuds face when attempting to quantify their benefit within the profit-driven corporate model. A financial cost-benefit analysis overlooks the more subtle, but potent effects an Ombuds makes in workplace wellness.

Related post: HR Professionals are Also Struggling to Define Effectiveness.