March 26, 2010

University of Georgia to Evaluate Ombuds Program After Two Year Trial

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.)


  1. No not too much detail...

    What is hard here is that UGA was forewarned that their approach was off target and likely not to result in their desired impact. The help they did accept - no professional but collegial - did not guide them away from a collateral detail model, and failed to help them generate an acceptable communications strategy.

    What is clear is that more and more programs are being established in this manner. A use of the word, but not of the needed underpinnings to ensure success.

    Unfortunate...there is no doubt in my mind that there are more people at UGA who would have benefited from access to a properly structured and execute program. Irony is UGA would also have benefited from this.

    Benefits require efforts.

  2. No. Very interesting. Thanks, Tom.

  3. I go to UGA and have utilized an ombuds. However, there is not a general awareness on the campus about the Ombuds program or what it does exactly. The concept of facilitator is totally foreign to many who go to school at UGA or work on campus. It is also possible that the concept is somehow linked to special interests or specific interests in people's minds, i.e. "how can an ombuds be impartial if the university is paying them?"

    My experience is that it was nice to have someone to talk to who was open and sincere with me, and who could sit on my side of the table during a meeting about some issues on campus. I had a pretty awful time at UGA my first few years and my distrust was ingrained at that point. However, because I did not fully understand the ombud's role at first, I could not fully utilize her in the short time period before the meeting. Perhaps UGA needs to reset ticking clocks when an ombuds becomes involved, similar to substitution of council in court.

    In all, with the hiring of Steve Shi as director of EOO things are getting much better, however there is still an inherent beleif set and attitudinal bias at UGA that prohibits the kind of equity that the concept of ombud is based upon.