March 28, 2011

American University in Cairo Plans Ombuds Office

In the wake of the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year, the independent and sectarian American University in Cairo plans several reforms to address concerns about the right of free expression on campus and labor standards. These initiatives include an Ombuds Office.

In a statement released last week, AUC President Lisa Anderson said, in part:

AUC upholds the right to freedom of belief, expression and assembly. Apart from language that might incite violence or otherwise represent an immediate danger, all speech is protected. In order to ensure that these rights are clearly and unambiguously expressed in the policies and procedures of the University, we have asked a faculty-student task force to develop a new policy statement on expression on campus, to replace the very restrictive policies of the past. We anticipate that the new policy will be available for comment by the University community by the end of March, and we hope new clear and consistent rights-based policies and procedural guidelines will be in place by mid-April.

We expect that all employees of the University will uphold, indeed celebrate, these rights. We know, however, that there is concern that members of the University administration abused their authority to stifle speech and to intimidate students, faculty and staff in the past, and there is worry that they may do so in the future.

We believe that individuals within the AUC community have both a right to register complaints about abuse of authority and a right to be presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. In order to ensure that both these rights are protected, we plan to establish a permanent Ombuds Office to take confidential complaints and to resolve conflicts. Because this Office will not be operational this semester, however, and because serious accusations have been made about members of the current AUC administration, particularly senior members of the security and student affairs staff, we will be establishing temporary special complaint panels.

These panels, which will begin operation before the end of March, will be tasked with collecting and assessing evidence of improper activity on the part of members of the AUC staff, particularly in monitoring, reporting, informing, interfering, stifling, or otherwise discouraging or preventing the exercise of free speech or assembly on campus. To ensure the absolute fairness of the process and, where necessary, the confidentiality of the complainants, the University will engage external legal counsel to join panels formed by the University’s Legal Advisor and, where appropriate including students and faculty, to hear complaints and draft assessments. The reports will be provided to the University Cabinet (the President, Provost and Vice-Presidents), who will both take appropriate action against those staff who are found to have violated community standards of free speech and will provide a report to the AUC community before the end of the semester both about the complaints and about the actions taken to redress them.
Additional details about the Ombuds Office have not been published. (AUC Student News, emphasis added.)

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