December 31, 2009

The Ombuds Decade in Review

Over the past ten years, the Organizational Ombuds field has advanced considerably and is now much closer to a profession than it was at the turn of the millennium. Here are the top events of the past decade:

1. UCOA and TOA Merge -- In 2005, the University and College Ombuds Association joined The Ombudsman Association to form the International Ombudsman Association, the primary professional body for Organizational Ombuds.

2. Canadian Ombuds Flourish -- The Forum of Canadian Ombuds was established in 2001 and has grown steadily as Ombuds programs of various types are created by government agencies, universities and businesses. FCO joined with the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudsmen (which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2008) and IOA for a joint conference in 2009.

3. The Lawyers Weigh In -- The American Bar Association issued revised "Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombuds Offices" in 2004, to the profound consternation of practicing Ombuds. Nonetheless, the uninvited advice has been used by many as a tool for persuading policymakers.

4. Federal Ombuds Get Organized -- The Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen held its first all day conference in 2002 and collaborated on the Guide for Federal Employee Ombuds in 2006. COFO has emerged as a robust organization for the growing number of Ombuds working in federal agencies and departments.

5. Leading Organizations Create Programs -- Many prominent businesses and non-profits created Organizational Ombuds programs since 2000, including Coca-Cola, the United Nations, the American Red Cross and dozens of universities.

6. Landmark Offices Close -- On the downside, several institutions shut down their Ombuds offices as the recession deepened in 2008 and 2009. Most notably, the California Institute of Technology closed the office that gave rise to one of the most significant court decisions for the profession.

7. Certification Becomes a Reality -- After nearly a decade of discussion and debate that began with TOA, IOA rolled out a certification program in 2009.

8. Concept Expands Beyond the US -- Although the Organizational Ombuds concept is most prevalent in the United States it has become more accepted in other countries. IOA incorporated 'international' in its title and committed to regular trainings and conferences abroad. The United Nations reorganized its conflict resolution system to include an Organizational Ombuds component; a move that has been followed by other affiliated NGOs including ILO, WIPO and WHO. Many corporations now have Ombuds serving employees internationally.

9. California Caucus Struggles -- The California Caucus of College and University Ombudsmen, the oldest organization of Ombuds and first publisher of a dedicated journal, has seen declining attendance at its annual meeting. As the decade closed, CCCUO was seeking its niche in a changed landscape.

10. A European Association Emerges -- The European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education began holding annual meetings in 2002 and has become a leading organization for university Ombuds around the world, not just Europe.

Viewed in the long term, these highlights point the way toward a bright future for Organizational Ombuds. Happy New Year, everyone!

December 30, 2009

Ombuds News Round Up at Enjoy Mediation

Jeff Thompson publishes Enjoy Mediation, an outstanding blog about mediation, negotiation and ADR, when he is not working as a Detective and a conflict specialist in New York City. Today, he posts an excellent summary of recent news about other Ombuds, including PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler, ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer and Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer, as well as efforts to create Ombuds programs by the UN Security Council and at Lufkin Industries in Texas. (Enjoy Mediation.)

Update: IOA Voids Election Results, Reopens Voting

In an email to members yesterday, the International Ombudsman Association acknowledged problems in its latest board election and asked members to vote again.
As many of you are aware, there have been some concerns voiced on the IOA listserv regarding the most recent election of IOA directors. Although the goal of the Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC) was to improve our election process by making each candidate’s personal statement and responses to questions posed by the Committee available in advance for review and consideration by all voters, it has become increasingly clear to us that such was not the case. Despite our best intentions, votes were cast before all of the candidate information was posted on the IOA website. Because we believe that conducting a fair election requires that all voters have access to the same information regarding the candidates, the Board and the NEC decided to conduct the election again. All of the previous votes have been discarded; we are asking eligible members to vote again for the candidates of their choice. Your prior ballot will not count; you must vote again if you wish to participate in this year’s election.

The committee asked members to review the candidates' information available on the IOA website and to recast their ballot by Friday, January 15, 2010. Results of the election are expected to be announced at the IOA conference in April.

Prior posts: IOA Revises Board Balloting, Calls for Nominations; Balloting Opens for IOA Board of Directors.

December 29, 2009

Job Posting: World Intellectual Property Organization

The United Nations agency in Geneva is hiring an Ombuds. The four-year position reports to the WIPO Director General and coordinates closely with the UN Ombuds Office. In addition to an advanced degree, applicants should have at least 12 years of relevant experience in a large organization, preferably of an international and multicultural character, and facility in a second UN language. The position is graded P.5 with a net base salary of $83,089-$101,835 (with dependants) or $77,190-$93,680 (without dependants). Deadline for applications is January 20, 2010. (UN Jobs, vacancy announcement P2024.)

Red Cross Issues Second Annual Report

Kevin Jessar, Corporate Ombudsman for the American Red Cross, has released a report summarizing the activities of his office for the year ended June 30, 2009. In the 2008-09 fiscal year, Jessar and his staff were contacted by 555 individuals, a 57% increase from the prior year. Two-thirds of the visitors were external constituents of the Red Cross. The increased caseload is remarkable, given the reduced budget for the office. The data, which is reported according to IOA Uniform Reporting Categories, also indicate that more a majority of the Red Cross Ombuds cases were handled through confidential coaching. (Red Cross Ombuds 2009 Report.)

Related posts: Red Cross Ombuds Publishes Inaugural Report and Announces Cut-Backs; New Ombuds at American Red Cross.

University of Waterloo Ombuds Surveys Visitors

Evalena Matlock-Corley, the Ombuds for the public university in Ontario, is using an online survey to gather feedback from visitors. The Zoomerang survey asks visitors how they learned about the office and their satisfaction with the Ombuds. (U Waterloo Ombuds.)

Camosun's Ombuds Featured in Video

Carter McDonald, the student Ombuds for Camosun College in Victoria, BC, is featured in a video posted to YouTube. Carter is interviewed in his office and explains his role on campus in the four and a half minute video produced by the College's Student Union. Carter was appointed to the position in 2008. (YouTube.)

Related posts: Camosun College Ombuds Fights Firing.

Carnegie Mims: First University of Texas Student Ombuds

Carnegie Howard Mims Jr., one of the first African-American students to attend the University of Texas Law School, died at the age of 65 on December 20 after a lengthy illness. Among his many achievements, Mims was the first student Ombudsman at UT. (Houston Chronicle.)

Related post: University of Texas Ombuds Office Celebrates 40 Years.

December 21, 2009

University of the Rockies Hopes to Train Future Ombuds

The private graduate school in Colorado Springs, Colorado announced a new specialization in Organizational Diversity apart of its Master of Arts in Psychology and the Doctor of Psychology programs. According to a press release, graduates from this specialization will be positioned for jobs as Ombuds and other roles such as Chief Diversity Officer, Director of Diversity, Diversity Manager, EEOC Managers, Human Resource Professionals, and Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs. "Inclusion is one of the most important words spoken with regard to diversity. The leaders of many organizations and corporations understand that they must create an inclusive environment in order to ensure a level of productivity among their employees," said Dr. Charlita Shelton, University of the Rockies President. There is no indication whether the new program will include Ombuds topics in particular. (CNN Money.)

Related posts: Pepperdine Law School Revives Ombuds Course; Columbia Adds Ombuds Course.

December 17, 2009

Call for Proposals: Midwest Meeting of University & College Ombuds

Tim Griffin, the Ombuds at Northern Illinois University, is planning the summer meeting of College and University Ombudspersons and would like to hear any ideas for programs or offers to present. The eighth annual conference will take place on Monday, July 12, 2010, at NIU in DeKalb and provides an opportunity for academic Ombuds to train, network, discuss cases, share concerns about their unique professional roles, and learn from each other's experiences. Contact Tim directly with suggestions (tgriffin[at-sign]niu[dot]edu).

Prior posts: New Ombuds Workshop at the Midwest Summer Meeting (2008); Summer Meeting and New Ombuds Workshop at NIU (2009).

Business Conflict Blogger on the Benefits of Organizational Ombuds

F. Peter Phillips, a commercial arbitrator, and international consultant on the management of business disputes, writes the Business Conflict Blog. His latest post highlights Organizational Ombuds as a robust resource for commercial conflict managers. Phillips, says:
Institutional Ombuds offer a different type of conflict management service from (a) classic Ombuds or (b) human resources, peer groups, mediators or other offices. They differ from classic Ombuds because they focus on concerns raised within the enterprise, rather than concerns between the enterprise and outside bodies (such as governments, consumers or communities). And they differ from other dispute management offices because they depart from traditional, hierarchical command structures.

He thanks Wilbur Hicks, the International Monetary Fund Ombuds, for the referral. (Business Conflict Blog.)

December 16, 2009

University of Tennessee Appoints Two Ombuds for Faculty and Staff

UT Knoxville Chancellor Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek announced that Bill Nugent will become the faculty Ombuds and Elaine Wynn will become the staff Ombuds effecive January 1, 2010. Cheeck said, “They are both very experienced mediators and can help diffuse situations that otherwise might go to the formal grievance or complaint processes. Using mediation to resolve issues before they reach a boiling point is cost-effective, time-saving and allows everyone to remain more productive.”

Nugent has been a professor in the UT College of Social Work since 1991. He earned his PhD from the University of Maryland in Baltimore and worked there as an assistant professor. He has also worked as an adjunct professor at Florida State University, as an outpatient psychotherapist in Florida, and as a training director for a network of runaway shelters and family service agencies in Florida.

Wynn has 20 years of experience as a conflict resolution specialist, and most recently worked in Knoxville as an independent mediator and volunteers as a mediator for Knox County Juvenile Court. She has a bachelor’s degree in behavior science from Lesley College and a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. She has also training and program design for a wide variety of organizations. (
UTK News.)

Prior posts:
University of Tennessee, Knoxville Names Interim Faculty Ombuds; Job Posting.

December 15, 2009

Penn State Seeking Faculty Ombuds to Lead Campus Program

The Pennsylvania State University Faculty Senate is seeking a current or emeritus faculty member for the position of University Ombudsperson. The position is a four-year renewable term. (Penn State Live.)

Since it was established in 1998, the Faculty Ombuds program at Penn State has relied on a network of campus volunteers to serve as unit Ombuds. Currently, there are 47 Ombuds or alternates. Emeritus professor David ("Duff") Gold coordinates the program and serves as the University Ombudsman. Although the tenth largest US university, Penn State's Ombuds handled just 43 cases in 2008-09. (PSU Faculty Senate Rules; PSU Ombuds Report 2008-09.)

At an Ombuds workshop in September, a faculty member presented an evaluation of the Penn State Ombuds program. The report found that undergraduate and graduate students lacked an independent, confidential and neutral dispute resolution resource and argued for broader Ombuds coverage. The report also found that Ombuds programs at similar institutions were staffed by full-time, experienced professionals. (PSU Ombuds Workshop, 9/18/09.)

Related posts: Penn State's First Ombuds Returns.

Expert: Workplace Bullying Should Not Be Mediated

David Yamada is a law professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, founder of the New Workplace Institute and an expert in the legal and organizational implications of workplace bullying. When asked whether workplace bullying can be mediated, he says, no. "Just as we would not attempt to mediate child abuse or spousal abuse, we should not attempt to mediate work abuse." Yamada's answer rests on the observation that workplace bullies abuse their power with malicious intent. He believes that attempts to mediate such situations subject targets to even more abuse and that a fair resolution is impossible. On the other hand, lesser forms of incivility, where power imbalances are not as pronounced and intentions are not malicious, may well benefit by a mediation approach. The problem is distinguishing between bullying and incivility. (Minding the Workplace.)

For Organizational Ombuds, the answer to this conundrum lies with the visitor (aka client/consultee/complainant). The visitor must decide whether or not to attempt a facilitation or mediation with the Ombuds. The Ombuds' obligation is to disclose the risks of any option, which would include acknowledgment that a bully may retaliate after mediation. In addition, if an Ombuds personally witnesses bullying (during a mediation or elsewhere), it can be addressed separately.

Related post: Workplace Bullying More Harmful than Sexual Harassment.

Job Posting: FDIC

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is hiring a Senior Ombudsman Specialist for its Washington, DC office. The position serves as a technical expert within the Office of the Ombudsman on examination issues and cases that may have wide impact on Corporate programs. The work of this position differs from the lower graded Ombudsman Specialist position primarily due to the greater responsibility and technical expertise required to independently handle controversial and complex issues which span boundaries, including organizational, agency, program, legal and regulatory. The grade 13/14 position pays $88,987 to $173,980; applications are due December 29; Vacancy no. 2009-HQ-B1525. (Federal Government Jobs; USA Jobs.)

Related posts: FDIC Ombuds Issues Biannual Report; FDIC Ombuds Reports Strong Growth in Visitor Traffic; FDIC Ombuds Creates Unit for Bank Customers; Job Postings.

December 14, 2009

House Passes Bill to Create Two New Federal Ombuds Programs

Friday, the US House of Representatives passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 by a vote of 223 to 202. HR 4173 is intended to provide for financial regulatory reform, to protect consumers and investors, to enhance Federal understanding of insurance issues, and to regulate the over-the-counter derivatives markets. Included in the reforms are new Ombuds programs for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. The SEC Ombuds would act as a liaison between the SEC and anyone by SEC regulatory activities, advising the SEC and individuals regarding compliance with Federal securities laws, and maintain confidentiality of communications with individuals. The PCAOB Ombuds act in a similar role for the PCAOB and registered public accounting firm with respect to PCAOB the regulatory activities, including the duty to preserve confidentiality. (GovTrack; OpenCongress; LA Times.)

These two proposed Ombuds programs would be similar to the robust Office of the Ombudsman for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (formerly the National Association of Securities Dealers). The financial services industry has been calling for this type of external Ombuds program for years. The Senate is expected to move forward on their version of the financial services reform fill next year.

Related posts:
NASDAQ and Banking Lobby Endorse Ombuds for Accounting Oversight; SEC Affirms Role of NASD Ombuds; Banking Expert Recommends Ombuds for Accounting and Securities Industries.

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente San Francisco

Kaiser is accepting applications for a HealthCare Ombudsman/Mediator in San Francisco. Last summer, Kaiser was looking for a part-time HCOM at this location. No indication whether this is the same or additional position. Extensive clinical health care experience (10+ years) and Ombuds training or experience is required. No closing date or salary indicated. Job ID: 008848. (Yahoo HotJobs; Hire Diversity.)

Prior: Job Posting.

Secretary-General Meets UN Ombuds

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) poses for a picture with John Barkat, United Nations Ombudsman, at a reception hosted by Mr. Barkat to welcome new mediation staff to his Office. (UN Photo.) Apparently, the new staff had to resort to photobombing.

Related posts: Barkat Appointed U.N. Ombuds; UN Ombuds Reports on Activities Amid Concerns Over Progress on Reformed Justice System.

December 13, 2009

Ombuds Should Not "Friend" Visitors

Last month, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued an opinion saying that judges may post comments and other materials on social networking sites, but they shouldn’t friend lawyers who may appear before them. The panel explained that the problem is the impression of influence. Friending a lawyer does not mean the person has actual influence over the judge, the opinion says, but the impression is there. The Legal Profession Blog noted the opinion, later picked up on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. The WSJ Law blogger thought the ethics committee was too cautious. (Fl. JEAC Opinion 2009-20; Legal Profession Blog; WSJ Law Blog; ABA Journal.)

I'm inclined to agree with the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Judges should be beyond reproach when it comes to their independence and neutrality. Moreover, because these are also critical attributes for Ombuds, the same rule should apply to our field. Especially because the Ombuds profession is still developing, individual practitioners must carefully protect their reputation. Once an Ombuds is perceived as being conflicted or biased, they lose their effectiveness as an informal resource. Permitting visitors or potential visitors to become "friends" on a social network is a public demonstration of favoritism. Ombuds can and should continue to use new media to serve their constituents. However, they are well advised to avoid friend requests as a matter of policy.

Update 4/4/10:  Ombudsman for Cape Code Times argues that journalists should not be 'friends' with people they cover.  She also declines to friend editors and other journalists.  (Cape Code Times.)

December 11, 2009

Job Posting: Wayne State University

Michigan's only urban public research university, which already has a semi-classical Ombuds Office, is hiring an Ombuds for research issues. The position will serve as a designated neutral or impartial dispute resolution practitioner for issues related to Sponsor Program Administration, and reports to the Vice President of Research, with a dotted line reporting relationship to the Director of Business Affairs. Applicants should have a Master's degree in business management, industrial/organization psychology, law or similar professional program. Apparently drawing on an older job description, the posting also requests membership in TOA or SPIDR, organizations defunct for several years. The salary range is $51,300-$87,300. Open until filled. (Wayne State HR; Wayne State Ombuds.)

ACR Seeks Ombuds Bloggers

The Association for Conflict Resolution is planning a new website to launch Spring 2010. Among other resources, the side will feature links to the blogs of individuals in the field of conflict resolution. ACR is inviting expressions of interest from bloggers, particularly on new ideas, solutions, and innovations to the alternative dispute resolution field. Blogs for and by Ombuds are specifically sought. (Proposals that promote a company, product or services will not be considered.) Applications are due by December 18. (ACR Update.)

December 10, 2009

University of Iowa Appoints New Ombuds

UI President Sally Mason has appointed Susan Johnson as a part-time Ombudsperson, effective January 1. Johnson has served as the associate provost for faculty, and previously worked as associate dean for faculty affairs. She also holds faculty appointments in the departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Epidemiology. Her clinical and research interests are in the areas of menopausal health issues, particularly the use of hormones and other drugs for prevention in post menopausal women, and premenstrual syndromes. Johnson earned her BS, MD and MS degrees all from the University of Iowa. She will take over from Lois Cox, Ombuds who will return to her faculty position at the law school. Johnson joins Cynthia Joyce, UI's full-time Ombuds since august 2005. (The Daily Iowan; UI Profile.)

Prior posts: University of Iowa Endorses Ombuds Office After Faculty Suicide; University of Iowa Hiring Faculty Ombuds; University of Iowa Ombuds Recaps Eventful Year; University of Iowa Ombuds Says Professors are Being Overloaded.

Job Posting: Savannah College of Art and Design

SCAD Savannah seeks a coordinator for its Ombuds Office. The coordinator is the front-line intermediary for students and other visitors, gathering information with discretion and confidentiality, regarding questions and concerns, and using judgment to coordinate responses or forward issues on to the appropriate ombudsman for further review. Prior experience with conflict management would be preferred. A college degree is required, a master's is ideal. (SCAD Jobs, posting no.: 0401502; via CareerBuilder.)

Employers of the Year's Worst Bosses Need Ombuds Programs

In the first ever contest of its kind, a panel of workplace experts assembled by eBossWatch selected and ranked the 25 Worst Bosses of 2009 who made headlines across the country and abroad. The list include restaurant managers, government administrators, an NFL head coach, and a Congressional candidate. Only one of the entities had an Organizational Ombuds.

Ranked number six on the list was Robert Cobb, former inspector general for NASA. Cobb resigned in April after three US senators asked President Obama to fire Cobb for creating a hostile work environment and mistreating subordinates. NASA policy mandates cooperation between the Ombuds and Inspector General, so it's probably a good thing Cobb is gone. The other 24 organizations on the list should really consider an effective Ombuds program. Even if the offenders have been terminated, their subordinates need reassurance that the problem will not be repeated and need a resource for future problems. (
Worst Bosses of 2009; NASA Policy Directive NPD 2025.1A.)

December 09, 2009

University of Wisconsin Ombuds Annual Report Highlights New Goals

UW–Madison Ombuds Program for Faculty and Staff has issued its annual summary for the 2008-09 academic year. In addition to visitor statistics and feedback on systemic issues, the office also identified some goals for itself. The UW Ombuds hope to become better known, better utilized and better integrated with the campus. In addition, the four, part-time Ombuds plan to participate in professional training and networking at annual and regional IOA meetings. Although the university appointed an Ombuds for veterans in 2008, there is no mention of this program in the report. (UW-Madison Ombuds Annual Report.)

Related posts: U. Wisconsin Adds Ombuds; University of Wisconsin Appoints Ombuds for Veterans; University of Wisconsin Ombuds Issues Annual Report.

Externship: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

FINRA is offering unpaid externships for graduate students in its Washington, DC office. The externs will work with FINRA Ombuds staff in performing a variety of tasks including research, analyses and writing, document review, as well as providing assistance in developing statistical reports, as well as quarterly and annual management reports preparing for investigative testimony and hearings. Applicants must submit a resume, cover letter and graduate school transcript. (FINRA Careers.)

Critical Factors for Effective Negotiation

Expert negotiator, Herb Cohen (who settled the NFL player strike and advised two presidents), says there are three crucial variables for every negotiation. Without these, you are likely to lose.
  • Power -- If you have the ability to get things done you’ll have more power during negotiations. Power also comes from perceived expertise or legitimacy, empathy, precedence, persistence, attitude, and persuasion.
  • Time -- The side with the most time generally has an advantage. Patience pays. No matter how pressed you are, you should always keep your cool, maintaining an appearance of calm.
  • Information -- The more you know, the better your position. Do your research before negotiations begin. And during negotiations, act on whatever new info comes to light.
Cohen also suggests other factors and tactics to consider: detachment; competition; playing dumb; asking “what if?”; silence; and sunk costs. This advice, which is available in a book, would be valuable for Ombuds coaching visitors to handle their own negotiations. (Get Rich Slowly.)

Related posts about Visitor Advice.

December 08, 2009

Ombuds Blog Now on Twitter

You can now follow the Ombuds Blog on Twitter. Mostly, Tweets will derive from blog posts. Refinements are sure to come. Please feel free suggest Twitter users worth following in the comments.

Related posts: Ombuds Not Exempt From Influence of Internet; An Ombuds Guide to Internet Tools; Higher Ed Ombuds Are Embracing Social Media.

December 07, 2009

Job Posting: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

The non-governmental securities industry regulator is seeking well qualified individuals for an Associate Director in the Office of the Ombudsman. The FINRA Ombuds Office serves external stakeholders (member firms and their employees, public investors, and any other business or individual who interacts with FINRA) with concerns about operations, enforcement, or other FINRA activities or staff. The Associate Director is responsible for conducting reviews and investigations related to complaints received by the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as working with senior managers to ensure appropriate resolution to any issue that arise. Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years experience in a compliance, analytical or investigative role; and strong knowledge of securities industry rules or relevant securities industry experience. The position is based in Rockville, MD and requires up to 25% travel. (FINRA Careers.)

Related posts: SEC Affirms Role of NASD Ombuds [predecessor to FINRA]; Job Posting (Sr. Dir.); Externship Posting.

House Bill Would Fund School Conflict Resolution Programs

In November, Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Act of 2009. HR 4000 would authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to school boards for the development and implementation of conflict resolution and mediation programs for students, teachers, and other school personnel at schools most directly affected by conflict and violence. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor where it will likely expire unless it receives some high profile attention. However, if passed this bill could increase funding for school district Ombuds programs. (GovTrack; OpenCongress; Campus ADR Blog.)

Interview With Lewis & Clark Ombuds

Valerie White, the first Ombuds for Lewis & Clark College, has been working diligently to raise awareness of her office. Her efforts will ben enhanced by an interview in the campus newspaper. She said that people come to her with many kinds of situations:
Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them and be a mirror for them. Sometimes it’s more complicated, and I may have five people in my office, trying to get to the heart of a problem. Some individuals may have exhausted two or three resources without resolving their issue. Or, for some, they’re just curious. It’s normal to be nervous, but come anyway!

(Lewis & Clark News.)

Related posts: Lewis & Clark College Launches Ombuds Office; Higher Ed Ombuds Are Embracing Social Media; College Ombuds Draws Interest With iTunes Raffle.

December 06, 2009

Outside Reviewers Recommend Ombuds for Grinnell College

Prompted by faculty concerns over employment practices in the Student Affairs division, the private liberal arts college in Iowa hired a team of outside administrators to review its policies governing hiring, performance review and disciplinary actions. The report by the task force made several recommendations, including recommended language for new policies and broad, overarching changes to the College’s employment and workplace philosophy. The reviewers also noted that an Ombuds would be a benefit. Presently, the College's faculty chair also serves as an Ombuds, but he admits often having conflict of interests.

The chair of an ad hoc committee looking into the Ombuds proposal, is considering three options: bringing the current Ombuds into compliance with IOA standards, abolishing the Ombuds position, or bringing in an independent Ombuds. The campus paper quotes Yeworkwha Belachew, the Oberlin College Ombuds, on the benefits of an Ombuds program for a small campus. (Scarlett & Black.)

Related post: Grinnell College Considering Ombuds Office.

Update: Colbert Accepts Olympics Oval Ombuds Offer

Stephen Colbert, the satirical late night comedy talk show host, has accepted an offer to attend the Winter Olympics as an Ombuds for US speed skaters. Earlier this month, Colbert, who is financially supporting the US Olympic Speed Skating Team, accused Canadians of unfairly denying Americans practice time at the Richmond Olympic Oval. In response, the City of Richmond offered to appoint Colbert as an official Ombuds, complete with a costume: "a lovely Richmond Olympic Oval pink toque." Thursday, Colbert said yes. "I have no idea what an ombudsman is, but as long as it requires no effort from me, I proudly accept," he told viewers. He declined, however, to wear the toque. (CBC Sports.)

Prior post: Stephen Colbert Offered Position as Olympic Ombudsman.

December 04, 2009

ABA Offers Guidance on Patent Office Ombuds Pilot

In October 2009, the US Patent and Trademark Office announced a pilot Ombuds program as part of an overall effort to improve the application process. Peggy Focarino, Acting Commissioner for Patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office proposed the Technology Center Ombuds as an independent alternative for resolving applicant issues. In response to the USPTO's call for comments, the American Bar Association submitted a letter last suggesting changes to the proposed program. Writing for the ABA's Standing Committee on Government Affairs, attorney Thomas M. Sussman urged the USPTO to specify key features for the Ombuds:
  • Independence from USPTO interference;
  • Impartiality as between the applicant and the USPTO; and
  • Confidentiality of USPTO applicants' communications.
Sussman also enclosed a copy of the ABA white paper, the revised "Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombuds Offices," dated February 2004. If adopted, these changes would result in an Ombuds program more consistent with IOA standards than standards for Advocate Ombuds. (ABA Letter re Comments on the Proposed “Patents Ombudsman Pilot Program”; via Perkins Coie Patent Law Insights.)

Related posts: US Patent Office Considering External Ombuds Program; US Patent Office Seeks Input on Ombuds Program.

December 03, 2009

Job Posting: Binghamton University

The public research university in Vestal, New York is hiring an Ombuds for faculty, staff and students. The position reports directly to the President of Binghamton University, the State University of New York, and operates according to IOA standards. Applicants should have an advanced degree and/or significant prior experience in "dispute resolution/arbitration" and "knowledge of, or experience in, formal Ombudsman training." The position pays $70,000+ (depending upon experience and qualifications). No closing date. (Binghamton HR.)

Sometimes its clear that the job postings are written by people who haven't taken the time or don't truly understand the role of the Ombuds office. In this case, it should be entirely irrelevant whether applicants have arbitration experience. That sort of decision making is outside the scope of the Ombuds' work.

This job posting is a relief to some who had worried that the Ombuds position at Binghampton would remain vacant. (Francine Montemurro, who established the office, recently moved to Boston University to set up its first program.) Due to budget cuts, many organizations have deferred replacing Ombuds who have left or retired. Binghamton apparently realizes an Ombuds office is an important resource and this reflects well on Montemurro's work.

Related posts: EEOC Complaint Against Binghamton University References Ombuds; Boston University Selects First Ombuds.

College Ombuds Draws Interest With iTunes Raffle

Valerie White, the Ombuds for Lewis & Clark College, has a unique offer designed to raise awareness of her office among students. During the first week of December, she is giving out six iTunes certificates worth $10 each. To be eligible, students must visit her Facebook page or website and send an email with a sentence or two about what they learned. (Lewis & Clark Source.)

Related post: Higher Ed Ombuds Are Embracing Social Media; Lewis & Clark College Launches Ombuds Office.

December 02, 2009

Call for Papers: 2010 Joint ENOHE/ACCUO Conference

The organizers of the joint conference of the European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education and the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons in Vienna on May 19-21, 2010, have issued a call for papers. They have provided the following suggestions corresponding to the organization of the conference:

  • The Ombuds Principles in Practice (separate sessions for new & more experienced ombuds)
  • What do you need to learn to be a more effective Ombudsman at this stage of your career?
  • Dealing with Uncooperative or Defensive Personnel
  • Fair, respectful and supportive environments in times of change and economic turmoil
  • Governance in Higher Education
  • Ombuds strategic alliances and impact on whole systems
  • Use and Security of electronic tools and services (in institutions or in ombuds offices)
Please note that the conference is organized on a cost recovery basis and there is no funding for presenters. Proposals are due by December 9, 2009. (ACCUO Call for Proposals.)

Prior post: Canadian and European Higher Ed Ombuds Will Convene in Vienna.

December 01, 2009

Balloting Opens for IOA Board of Directors

The International Ombudsman Association has implemented a number of changes to the process for electing directors. The election been advanced to to allow members to vote before renewing their membership in January. Balloting will end this year on Friday, December 11, 2009. In addition, the IOA is publishing longer candidate statements on the public area of the website so that voters will have more details about the potential directors. Four directors will be elected from seven nominees. As usual, the Ombuds Blog is providing links to other public information about nominees.
The nomination for Associate Member Representatives is not contested.
Francine Montemurro and Roxanne ("Ellen") Schreiber are completing their three-year terms on the IOA Board but are not up for re-election. (IOA Board Candidates.)

Related posts: Balloting Begins for IOA Board (2007); IOA Announces Board Nominees (2008); IOA Revises Board Balloting, Calls for Nominations.

Job Posting: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The FDIC is hiring an Organizational Ombuds. Although the regulatory agency employs scores of Ombuds to work with customers when a bank has been taken over, the Internal Ombudsman serves as confidential consultant to the Chairman of the FDIC. The position also provides information and advice to FDIC employees "serving as an impartial, neutral, independent and confidential channel with responsibility for informal conflict avoidance and resolution." Applicants must have at least one year of relevant experience and will undergo a background check. Applications are due December 10, 2009. The position pays $123,693-$204,659 per year. (USA Jobs, vacancy no. CG-0301-15; Federal Government Jobs, vacancy no. 2009-HQ-1492.)

Related posts: FDIC Ombuds Reports Strong Growth in Visitor Traffic; FDIC Ombuds Creates Unit for Bank Customers; Job Postings.