Workers at the private research university in Worcester, MA went out on strike this week, complaining about low wages, unaffordable health plans, and a pattern of intimidation and coercion by the vendor who employs them, Sedexo. Clark students, faculty, staff and alumni, and local political leaders are calling on the university to allow the workers to unionize and to implement other reforms including the creation of an Ombuds for employees. (SEIU Blog.)
An open letter to Clark University President David Angel outlines the proposed Ombuds:
The position of a Campus Ombudsman or an equivalent third party committee must be created and institutionalized through policy in order to ensure that issues between employees and their bosses, be they Clark, Sodexo, or employees of another organization, are addressed through an avenue and process run by a third party professional yet empowered by the Clark Administration (see the letter Requesting the Appointment of an Ombudsman). Contracts should be evaluated by the Ombudsman. (Clark Unite! Blog.)
Of course, this model is not what most North American universities have adopted. More than 300 universities employ Organizational Ombuds and most explicitly practice to International Ombudsman Association standards. (This list includes many of Clark's neighbors: Amherst College; Boston University; Hampshire College; Harvard University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Mount Holyoke College; Smith College; and University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Dartmouth and Lowell.) These Ombuds work to ensure fair and equitable resolution of campus conflicts by practicing to the ethical tenets of confidentiality, independence, neutrality and informality. They do not, however, evaluate contracts.