September 18, 2012

University of Pennsylvania Ombuds Posts Annual Report, Reiterates Need for Changes to Program

In her annual report, UPenn's Ombudsman, Thadious M. Davis said that the university is reviewing its sexual harassment policies to determine the appropriate role of the Ombuds. In 2011, the former Ombuds, Joan Goodman, recommended that the office come into compliance with IOA standards so that it would not be considered an office of notice.

In his 2011-12 report, Davis writes:
In order to improve our operational procedures and to examine the standard practices recommended by the International Ombudsman Association, we have planned in consultation with Joann Mitchell, Vice President for Institutional Affairs, conversations with the staffs of ombuds offices at several peer institutions. We anticipate discovering more detailed information about how other offices comply with the best practice identified by the IOA while attending to the specific founding charges formulated by their universities for ombuds offices. Currently, Penn cannot become a full member of the international association because of some of Penn’s practices which do not conform to IOA standards. Our Office’s reporting practice and position as an agent of notice, for instance, are not in compliance with IOA normative standards, in addition to being unlike those of the ombuds offices at our peer institutions. An unresolved issue in the matter of reporting is the degree of similarity or difference between the Office of the Ombudsman and the other major resources offices within the University designated as reporting offices under the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy, which is currently under review. This designation means that the Office is available to answer questions, provide information, assist in informal resolution of complaints, and recommend additional resources for complainants and respondents; it also places the Office as an agent of notice in a position that could compromise both its and the IOA principle of confidentiality. Importantly, the University’s Sexual Violence Policy (Almanac July 17, 2012) has begun to articulate the role of the Office of the Ombudsman as an information, counseling, and support resource office and to distinguish its services from other complaint resolution resource offices.
Davis also noted that her office had handled 169 cases in the last academic year.  (UPenn Almanac.)

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