July 20, 2017

Paper Urges Academic Ombuds to Deal with Disparities in Practices

Tessa Tompkins Byer surveyed 111 Ombuds in higher education and interviewed 21 to learn about their practices. She presented initial findings at the IOA conference in 2016 and now has published a paper with more detail in Harvard's Negotiation Journal. "Yea, Nay, and Everything in Between: Disparities within the Academic Ombuds Field" is an insightful review of the field and should be valuable for practitioners and their professional association, IOA.

Byer identified the following areas in which Ombuds’ experiences and perceptions of their jobs diverged:
  • Their degree of personal isolation, how it affects them, and how they manage it;
  • Whether or not and how they cultivate campus relationships;
  • The structure of their role within the institution (e.g., Is the Ombuds role their sole responsibility? Do they come from within that institution or were they hired externally?);
  • Whether or not they see the Ombuds office as necessary or essential to the university's functioning; and
  • The role of informality in their practices.
The second category of disparities Byer encountered are the ways that Ombuds view their profession, not simply differences in preferences but more fundamental disagreements about what constitutes appropriate Ombuds practice:
  • The terminology that defines the job: practitioners disagree about the usefulness of the term “Ombuds,” for example;
  • The role of neutrality and the challenge of maintaining it;
  • The value of IOA certification;
  • The most appropriate methods for evaluating the effectiveness of an Ombuds office; and
  • How Ombuds make recommendations for institutional improvement.
She concludes that the more serious discrepancies "undermine [Ombuds'] efforts to gain a greater role for the field and enhance its wider visibility and respectability."

Byer is a mediator and housing stabilization coordinator at Just-A-Start Corporation in Cambridge, MA. The full article is available online from Wiley. (Harvard Law School Negotiation Journal.)

Related posts: IOA Posts Agenda, Opens Registration for 2016 Annual Conference; Landmark Study Compares University Ombuds Internationally.

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