October 01, 2007

Iona's New "Ombuds Office" Isn't

Last week, I was excited to learn that Iona College had opened an ombuds office. The private college in New York is well known: it has been named one of America's "Best Colleges" by US News & World Report, and it's men's basketball team went to the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Since it is rare for a small school to invest in an ombuds office, I wanted to spread the news. Then, I read the college's website, which offers this definition:
OMBUDSPERSON: Ombudsperson means the employee designated to coordinate Iona College’s effort to comply with the Iona College Harassment and Discrimination Policy, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, the 1980 implementing regulation, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and any memorandum, directives, guidelines, or subsequent federal or New York state legislation regarding harassment and discrimination that may be issued or enacted. (Iona College Office of the Ombudsperson.)

There is absolutely no assurance that the office is independent, impartial or confidential -- the essential characteristics of an ombuds. (See
ABA Standards, p. 2.) Moreover, Iona's human resources director serves as the "ombudsperson." Clearly, this is an ombuds office in name only. It does not comply with either the IOA Standards or the USOA Standards. Instead, it seems to be little more than a compliance office.

Simply by existing, Iona's "ombuds office" devalues the good reputation that IOA and USOA and their members have created and seek to enhance. Iona's alumni will carry a profound misunderstanding of the ombuds profession into the world. Casual Internet users will be confused if they compare Iona's definition with other ombuds offices. In a worst case scenario, if Iona's office is involved in litigation, legal protections for the profession could be eviscerated.

IOA should reach out to Iona to encourage compliance with the professional standards or to urge that the college discontinue the use of the term ombuds. (Since I am not a member of USOA, I cannot presume to opine on its response.) The profession can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to this sort of misrepresentation. The consequences could be disastrous.

1 comment:

  1. If Iona College can not offer visitors to the Ombuds office the assurance of confidentiality, then I doubt they will have many users - which therein defeats the purpose of setting up the Ombuds office in the first place.