Two years after UGA created an Ombuds Office in response to allegations of harassment by faculty, a University Council committee is calling for an independent evaluation of how allegations are now being addressed by the office.
In the Spring of 2008, several cases of sexual harassment were uncovered by the campus newspaper, The Red and Black. University President Michael Adams eventually announced the creation of an Ombuds office and a change in how harassment cases would be handled. Ultimately eight UGA employees were sanctioned for their misconduct.
When the UGA Ombuds office was established for a two-year pilot period, there were some concerns. Although most Organizational Ombuds offer confidentiality except in cases of imminent harm, the UGA Ombuds had the obligation to report violations of the university's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. In addition, some UGA faculty voiced concerns about the independence of the new Ombuds Office.
The three UGA Ombuds contacted by the Red and Black declined to discuss specific cases. They did reveal that some visitors have been referred to UGA's Equal Opportunity Office. Only two reports have been sent from the Ombuds office to EOO; one involved a student concern and the other a staff complaint. Shay Little, Ombuds for students admitted to being surprised that there have been the very few cases involving non-discrimination and anti-harassment issues. However, the latest annual report, shows only 13 student cases for the campus with an enrollment of 35,000.
In October 2010, the President’s Office will formally review the first two years of the UGA Ombuds program to determine any changes that should be made. Steve Shi, Director of the EOO, said he would recommend the program continue, but doesn’t know what changes may occur. Members of the review committee are expected to produce a report by next spring.
In a companion opinion piece, the Red and Black Editorial Board called on the university to promote greater awareness of the Ombuds Office. (Red and Black article, editorial.)