June 12, 2012

Havard Law Case Study Focuses on Ombuds and the 'Dear Colleague Letter'

A recent Harvard Law Case Study features a University Ombuds and an effort to update a sexual harassment policy -- a scenario that will surely resonate with many Ombuds in higher education.  It was written by Robert Bordone, Director of Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program and a Public Director of the Board of Certification for Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioners.


Langdell University, in the state of Ames, is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the country. Since the late 1970’s Langdell University has had a single sexual harassment procedure for all of its undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. However, in a recent review the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights criticized this single centralized system as inefficient and unfairly burdensome to some students and staff. Accordingly, Langdell University has decided to scrap its existing system, and Langdell’s president has requested that each of the graduate and professional schools design and implement its own procedure for resolving sexual harassment disputes and enforcing the university’s sexual harassment policy. 

In response to this request, the Dean of Langdell Law School, Dean Wormer, has formed an ad hoc committee, of which you are a member, to recommend a procedure for resolving complaints of sexual harassment. The committee includes the following individuals: the Dean of Admissions, the General Counsel, Professor Cheetham, the Secretarial Staff Coordinator, the Student Body President, and the Law School Ombuds. The committee‘s task is to design a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints and for enforcing the university’s sexual harassment policy. In preliminary discussions the Dean and the law school General Counsel identified six broad issues that the committee should consider in designing the law school’s new sexual harassment complaint resolution system. They are: Dispute Resolution Options, Factfinder and Decisionmaker, Corrective and Remedial Action, Confidentiality and Privilege, Representation, and Publicity. The committee will be meet for approximately 2.5 hours to design the school’s new sexual harassment complaint procedure. 

Harvard Law Case Studies studies are proprietary educational tools used in undergraduate, graduate, executive education, and professional development courses, workshops, and seminars.  The case study is available free to educators and staff of degree-granting institutions.  (Harvard Case Study.)

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