January 31, 2007

ABA Dusts Off Its Crystal Ball

Perhaps inspired by Mary Rowe’s prognostication, the American Bar Association has a list of topics lawyers will be discussing in 2007. Some of these could easily be issues for ombuds:
  • Who’s a Citizen? (Immigration reformers want to deny citizenship to “anchor babies”.) – Ombuds will remain a confidential resource for visitors who fear disclosing their immigration status.
  • My Space Discovery (Lawyers are mining social networks for nuggets of evidence) – As virtual communities grow in size and complexity, the number of disputes will increase accordingly. Ombuds will need to adapt to serve visitors with concerns from the virtual domain.
  • Online Background Checks (As social networking grows, so does the ability of employers to discriminate) – Visitors increasingly will have concerns about the blurring of their private life and work life.
  • Medical ID Theft (Sophisticated schemes to get medical records add to the risk facing medical information holders) – Ombuds may expect more cases involving identity theft.
(ABA Journal subscription.)

January 30, 2007

Survey Reveals Recognition is Most Effective Non-Monetary Motivator

According to a survey by Accountemps, frequent recognition of accomplishments is the most effective non-monetary way of motivating employees. Recognition was more important than regular communication, increased responsibility, off-site team-building and social events. "No amount of team-building events or other perks can compensate for a manager personally thanking employees for a job well done," says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. (Business & Legal Reports.) There are many way ombuds can use this seemingly innocuous observation. For example, simply thanking participants at the outset of a facilitation can inspire more dedicated participation in the process.

January 29, 2007

Top Accreditation Official Joins Dept. of Education, FSA Ombuds Office

John W. Barth, director of accreditation and state liaison for the Education Department, abruptly transfered to the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman’s Office. The move was puzzling because the department’s political leaders are engaged in an aggressive campaign to ramp up the government’s oversight of accrediting agencies. (Inside Higher Ed.)

January 26, 2007

NPR Series On Dispute Resolution

National Public Radio's evening program, All Things Considered, is running a series on the pros, cons of bipartisanship. Although "Crossing the Divide" focuses on bipartisanship in Washington, it features examples of compromise and cooperation from business and everyday life that ombuds may find valuable. Recent pieces, which are available for download, discussed:
  • How racial assumptions on both sides keep us from more fully understanding and appreciating "the other";
  • How brothers with deeply opposing political beliefs found common ground and reconciliation; and
  • How former Senators George Mitchell and Alan Simpson moved past partisanship.

January 24, 2007

Sen. Grassley Seeks More Info From CDC Ombuds

Citing "very troubling allegations of serious morale problems" at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Senator Charles Grassley, has asked for additional information on what the agency is doing to address the situation. The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to CDC Director Julie Gerberding on Tuesday seeking additional information about actions the agency's new ombudsmen are taking to improve the workplace environment at the Atlanta-based agency. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, subscription required; prior Ombuds Blog post.)
More Positive Press for SBA Ombuds

A profile appeared in today's Los Angeles Times featuring Nicholas N. Owens, the new head of the Office of the National Ombudsman at the Small Business Administration. Ownes also announced a two-hour public hearing for small business owners on in Los Angeles. (LA Times.)

January 23, 2007

Job Posting: Cal. State San Bernardino

California State University, San Bernardino is seeking a new Director of Ombuds Services. The incumbent reports directly to the University President and is responsible for "providing impartial and permissible confidential consultation on issues" and functioning as "a communicator and facilitator, as well as a sensor within the campus community to identify problems or trends." So far, so good. In addition, the incumbent is the Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Officer, and "will implement and monitor federal Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity programs to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations, polices, and guidelines." Wha . . . ? . . . sigh. (CSUSB Posting.) The CSUSB Ombuds Office was just founded in March 2006 by Chani Beeman, who previously headed the university's academic computing and media department.
DWS Funds Hires Ombuds

In December 2006, DWS Funds (known until recently as the Scudder Funds), reached a settlement with regulators regarding alleged market-timing arrangements from three years ago. In addition to paying refunds and ensuring better oversight, DWS reportedly has also hired an ombudsman to enable employees to raise ethics questions without fear of retribution from management. (Morningstar.com.)

January 22, 2007

Update: CDC to Make Ombuds Permanent

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the agency will recruit and hire a full-time ombudsman as soon as possible. In an email to all CDC staff, the director said she was pleased with the recent progress reported hours earlier by two interim ombudsmen. (Atlanta Journal Constitution; prior Ombuds Blog post.)
Calif. Appellate Court Relies on Testimony of University Ombuds in Denying Student's Grade Challenge

Stephen Head, a student at California State University, San Jose, had appealed an administrative decision denying his academic grievance which sought a revised grade and alleged that he had been unfairly treated of his conservative politics. In an unpublished decision rejecting the student's claims, the Appellate Court relied on heavily on a declaration from the University Ombudsman Savander Parker that justified the university's handling of the grievance. In fact, Parker appeared to be substantially involved in the grievance process. (Court's Decision.) Parker is a member of IOA.

Update 4/28/10: A similar case, arising out of a grade dispute in 2003, indicated similar testimony from the Ombuds.  (Onkvisit v. Cal. State Pers. Bd., 2010 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3040 (Apr. 27, 2010).)
"How to" Seminar on Becoming an Ombudsman

ADR Practice Builder has announced a teleseminar on entering the field and having a private consulting practice. The event will take place at 10 am EST on March 29, cost $25 for non-members and feature a to-be-announced special guest. (ADR Practice Builder.)
CDC Ombuds Issue First Report

The two ombudsmen hired in response to morale problems at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Joseph McDade and Gerald Naehr, have received 26 inquiries since last fall, according to an e-mail they sent to agency employees. The ombudsmen (hired last October on a one-year $250,000 contract) have recommended that the CDC establish a permanent ombudsman office at the Atlanta-based agency and hire a full-time director. Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked to have the ombudsmen provide him a briefing on their activities by February 9. (Atlanta Journal Constitution subscription required.)

January 19, 2007

Indiana State University Ombuds Dies

Mike Phillips, ISU's student ombudsperson, died Thursday in Terre Haute. He was 61. Phillips was a Terre Haute native and scheduled to retire from his position as student ombudsperson at the end of the spring 2007 semester. As student ombudsperson, Phillips told the Indiana Statesman in August 2002, he was a self-proclaimed "problem solver for any problem a student could have, such as financial aid, housing, roommate, towed car or classroom problems." Phillips is survived by his wife and four children. Funeral arrangements are pending. (Indiana Statesman.) Phillips was a member of IOA.
UN Ombuds to be Appointed

Among the posts to be filled by Ban Ki-moon, the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, is that of the UN Ombudsman. This is an Assistant Secretary-General level position, previously filled by the first UN Ombudsman M. Patricia Durrant of Jamaica. (Top Posts Blog.)

January 18, 2007

Cal Poly Pomona Debuts Ombuds Office

Intending to address campus-related problems, California State University, Pomona President Michael Ortiz recently established The Office of the University Ombuds. "This is the first step to take if you don't know what to do," said Ombuds Office Director Glenda C. Brock, regarding the assistance the office offers. Brock was a professor in the accounting department and recently received the annual award for Outstanding Faculty Leadership. (Poly Post.)
CUNY Proposes New Procedures for Non-Academic Student Complaints

Administrators for the City University of New York have proposed new procedures for student complaints that are not related to either academic freedom or covered by other university policies. The plan would give a "Fact Finder" investigative responsibilities and creates panels to adjudicate those complaints in which an informal resolution cannot be reached. (CUNY Revised Policy.) The proposal states, in part:
The Fact Finder shall separately interview the complaining student, the faculty member and other persons with relevant knowledge and information and shall also consult with the chief student affairs officer and, if appropriate, the college ombudsman. [Emphasis added.]

The proposal is expected to come before CUNY’s board for ratification later this month and has faculty leaders worried that their institution may end up giving conservative activists a victory. Moreover, Myron Schwartzman, Interim Ombudsperson at Baruch College, points out that there already is a structure in place for student complaints at every CUNY college: the Ombudsperson, who is a designated neutral, providing confidentiality to all persons seeking his or her services. (Inside Higher Education.)

January 16, 2007

IOA Updates Format of Code and Standards

The International Ombudsman Association has updated the format of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. The downloadable PDF documents now have a color border and the IOA logo: Suitable for framing! (IOA Website.)
Peek at the Long Playing Effort to Create an Ombuds Office at Auburn University

In August 2004, Interim Auburn University President Ed Richardson announced steps to make diversity initiatives a higher priority on campus. The initial changes were to include strengthening the role of the provost in most efforts toward diversity enhancement and establishing an ombudsman position in the President's Office to address diversity matters that fall outside established channels. (News Release.) In December 2005, Lin Inlow met with a number of Auburn administrators and other. (Inlow is Director of Conflict Resolution Education and Training at the Consortium on Negotiation an Conflict Resolution at Georgia State University’s College of Law and was University Ombuds at GSU for five years.) Since then, there has been little progress, despite persistent inquiries from the academic senate. (Just a few of the many Auburn Senate Minutes available on line: 9/9/03; 5/11/04; 6/7/05; 10/4/05; 2/4/06; 6/22/06; 1/17/07.) Although this process is not remarkable, it is unusual to see it so publicly.

January 11, 2007

Research Shows Bad Bosses Drive Away More Workers Than Low Pay

New research from Florida State University confirms that employees don't quit their company, they quit their boss. An abusive supervisor, rather than dissatisfaction with pay, was more likely to prompt employees to leave their job, according to the findings. Such workers are less likely to work longer or on weekends, or take on more tasks. The survey findings are scheduled to be published in a 2007 issue of The Leadership Quarterly, a journal for scholars, consultants, practicing managers, executives, administrators and leadership educators. (SHRM Online.)
Anne Arundel County, MD, School Superintendent Seeks Ombuds

The superintendent of the public school district in Anne Arundel County, Kevin M. Maxwell, unveiled an ambitious plan to overhaul the district with a 17 percent increase in school funding next fiscal year. Among proposals, Maxwell also wants to hire an ombudsman to help resolve complaints raised by school employees, parents and others in the community. (Washington Post, subscription.)

January 09, 2007

SBA Ombuds Profiled After Visit to Oregon

Small Business Administration National Ombudsman, Nicholas Owens, recently addressed the Eastern Oregon Mining Association and received a nice write-up (with photo) in the local paper. (Baker City Herald; see prior Ombuds Blog post.)
Microbiology Chair at U Penn Responds to Criticism of Ombuds Office

In a letter to the editors of the University of Pennsylvania Almanac, a microbiology professor complained that he had been unfairly treated and that the ombuds office did not provide a "meaningful response" to his complaint. The professor therefore took issue with the ombudsman's assertion that "Penn is a remarkably caring and supportive institution." Of course, an ombuds cannot respond to public criticism, because doing so would violate the duty of confidentiality. Fortunately, the chair of the microbiology department responded to the substance of the professor's letter (although not on behalf of the ombuds office per se). While it is unclear how the response was orchestrated, this is a clever solution to keep in mind. (UPenn Almanac; see prior Ombuds Blog post.)

January 08, 2007

"Schmoozing" Tips for New Ombuds

Success as an ombuds depend on the ability to talk to others within the organization about critical issues. However, it can be daunting to make these connections before the need arises, especially if you're new to ombudsing or an organization. Guy Kawasaki has some great tips on how to start conversations and build relationships. My favorite: "Get out. Schmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can't do it alone from your office on the phone or via a computer." (How to Change the World; see also prior Ombuds Blog post on Acquiring Organizational Culture.)
When Being Right is Wrong

Real Simple magazine offers four questions you may want to pose to an unhappy visitor:
  1. Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?
  2. What’s more important to me: making someone wrong for the moment or having a great long-term relationship?
  3. What would happen if I let go of the urge to correct and concentrated instead on the rewards of connecting?
  4. Could I let someone else be right for just a minute before I say what I think?
(Real Simple.)

January 07, 2007

Philanthropic Foundations Urged to Implement Ombuds

Foundations are among our most powerful and least visible institutions, asserts Joel Fleishman, a professor of law and public policy at Duke University - and the former president of the Atlantic Philanthropic Services Company. He is author of the new book, The Foundation: A Great American Secret: How Private Wealth Is Changing The World. Drawing on scores of interviews and an analysis of 100 major foundation initiatives, Fleishman introduces the "third sector of the American economy." Although they enrich civic life, Fleishman also challenges charitable organizations to "raise the level of their performance by reducing their insulation from beneficial external influences while retaining the independence they need." Fleishman concludes that foundations should create the equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, hire an ombudsman and subject themselves to peer review. (Baltimore Sun.)
Western Michigan University Reopens Ombuds Office

Dr. Thomas Bailey will reopen office immediately and serve as university ombudsman on a half-time basis through December 2007. The office has been closed since June, when the last ombudsman retired and University officials opted not to appoint a replacement. Bailey is a professor of English and environmental studies, and had been WMU ombuds from 1994 to 1999. Bailey was also president of the University and College Ombudsman Association (UCOA) in 1999. (WMU News.)

January 06, 2007

Proposal for Triple-X Ombuds

Eight months after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declined to approve a proposed contract with registrar-hopeful ICM Registry, controversial sponsored Top-Level Domain dot-xxx is back. Late Friday, ICANN posted a revised contract on its website, which, if approved, might allow open registration of domains as early as this summer. One of the new contract sections requires ICM to designate a compliance manager and an independent ombudsman to address concerns and complaints. (Free Speech Coalition.) Note: ICANN already has its own ombuds.

January 04, 2007

DC Mayor's School Plan Includes Ombuds

District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty has unveiled legislation that would put him in charge of reforming the city's struggling public schools. He says the plan is needed to reverse "decades of failure." The mayor's proposal also calls for an ombudsman, who would receive feedback from parents, and a facilities manager to oversee a schools modernization program. Several council members have said they plan to move the legislation forward quickly. (Education Week.)

January 03, 2007

Musical Chairs at the University of California

As 2006 drew to a close, there were a series of moves between ombuds offices within the UC system. Here's a recap: Jennifer Wolf left UCLA to become a university ombuds at UC Irvine; Andrea Briggs left UC Riverside to become the interim director at UC Santa Barbara; Kathy Canul left UC Irvine to become the director at UCLA; and Tom Kosakowski, previously at UCLA, became the interim director at UC Riverside. Meanwhile UC Berkeley is looking for another staff ombuds. (Prior Ombuds Blog posting.) No word on whether the music has stopped yet.
Clackamas County, OR, Considers Ombuds

With democrats taking control of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, discussion turned to changing board leadership, promoting of biodiesel and ... wait for it ... creating an ombudsman. After learning that the county directs complainants to department heads, board members talked about creating an ombudsman to make sure citizens get answers. (The Oregonian.)
Siemens Chief Urges Employees to Consult Ombuds

In a New Year's letter, Siemens CEO Klaus Kleinfeld urged his 475,000 employees to adhere to their sense of responsibility. "No one can tolerate behavior that fails to conform to our internal business conduct guidelines," he told staff. He said staffers in doubt can consult with the independent ombudsman. "We want to be an example for transparency and behavior and in that way set global standards," Kleinfeld wrote. (Marketwatch, prior Ombuds Blog post.)

January 02, 2007

Dept. of Labor Announces New Ombuds for Energy Employees

The U.S. Department of Labor announced the appointment of Malcolm Nelson to serve as the Ombudsman for Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA). Nelson's appointment fills the vacancy left by the departure of the first ombudsman, Donald Shalhoub. The EEOICPA ombuds was created by the Defense Authorization Act of 2005 to provide information to employees on the benefits available and is required to issue an annual report to Congress concerning complaints, grievances and requests for assistance received that year. Nelson, a career government attorney, most recently served as general counsel for the Benefits Review Board. (DOL News Release.)

January 01, 2007

New Ethics Plan for New York Includes State Ombuds

Just a few hours after taking office, Gov. Eliot Spitzer today signed orders banning gifts for state employees, prohibiting himself and the lieutenant governor from appearing in taxpayer-funded commercials and otherwise making government "responsive" and "transparent." Spitzer said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to implement ethics guidelines "that would begin the process of restoring government to what it should be. The five orders, which do not require approval by the Legislature include an order establishing the offices of state Ombudsman and Human Rights Advisory Council and promoting a policy against age discrimination in the workplace. (Rochester Democrat.)