November 30, 2007

Ombuds Blog Marks First Anniversary

The Ombuds Blog launched in November 2006. Since then, it has posted 422 items of news and information for organizational ombuds. The site has garnered 14,000 hits from 5,800 visitors. The majority of visitors (59%) return and 70 people have signed up for daily email updates via Feedblitz. Reflecting the growth in the profession, 50 ombuds jobs have been posted and 14 new ombuds announced. The site also features links to 281 ombuds offices in corporations, higher education, government, health care, NGO's and school districts.

The highest number of hits came on June 18, which featured stories about:
  • A Federal District Court respecting the confidentiality of the ombuds office at Marquette University;
  • The governor of Tennessee moving ahead with hiring an open records ombuds;
  • The Ombudsman for Citizenship and Immigration Services criticizing FBI delays in reviewing immigration applications;
  • Public outcry over the ombuds at Eastern Michigan University withholding details of a murder investigation;
  • A profile of the new ombuds at University of South Florida; and
  • A job posting for the ombuds office at the Stanford School of Medicine.
(The increased traffic was also due to a story posted two days earlier revealing that a prestigious law firm had secretly advised owners of the Wall Street Journal to consider an ombuds to protect the paper's independence and integrity if it was sold to Rupert Murdoch.)

In its first year, the Ombuds Blog also tracked legislation to:
  • Create a federal ombuds for accounting oversight;
  • Require intellectual diversity ombuds for several state universities;
  • Implement a federal open records ombuds;
  • Establish an ombuds office for the Red Cross;
  • Create a privilege for ombuds in Texas;
  • Open an ombuds office for the Department of Defense;
  • Defund the Centers for Disease Control ombuds office; and
  • Establish an ombuds for college accreditation issues.
Thanks again for all of your support. Please do not hesitate to submit items that have been overlooked.

November 29, 2007

IOA Training in Las Vegas

The International Ombudsman Association will offer training sessions for new and experienced ombuds at the The Imperial Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, March 3-7, 2008. This will be the only training opportunity in the Southwest in the foreseeable future. "Ombudsman 101" will be offered March 3-5 and is designed for new ombuds or those seeking information about the organizational ombuds role. ("Ombudsman 101 Plus" will not be offered.) On March 6 and 7, there will be specialized courses in "Conflict Management Across Cultures" and "Coaching Strategies for Ombudsmen." (IOA Training Info.)

November 28, 2007

Update: DC Schools Ombuds Confirmed With Increased Budget

The Washington DC Council has confirmed Tonya Vidal Kinlow as the first public schools ombuds for District. At the hearing, Kinlow said that office would have four employees besides herself, not three as first discussed, and operate with a budget of almost $500,000 rather than the initial amount of $400,000. (WJLA News.)

Related posts: DC Schools Appoint First Ombuds; More Details Emerge Regarding DC School Ombuds.

November 27, 2007

Sen. Grassley Endorses Red Cross Ombuds

Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Grassley met with the chairs of the Red Cross Board of Governors and Independent Governance Advisory Panel to continue conversations about the recent governance changes at the Red Cross. Commenting on the Red Cross Board’s decisions, Senator Grassley said:
I'm glad to see the Red Cross taking action on the important recommendations made by an independent panel. Public confidence has been shaken, and the reform effort needs to go the extra mile to help restore it. Continued independent oversight from an ombudsman-type figure would make a positive contribution to this effort. (Red Cross Press Release.)

Although Grassley's comments seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the role for the Red Cross ombuds office, it is a welcome change from his initial antipathy toward the CDC ombuds office.

Related posts: CDC Ombuds Become Focus of Sen. Grassley's Ire; First Red Cross Ombuds Promises to Strengthen "Sacred Trust" With Public.

November 26, 2007

Negotiation Ground Rules for Writers Strike

Settlement talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resume today. According to a blog written by writers from the Late Show, the following rules will be in effect during the negotiations:
  • Each side may bring one giant inflatable animal.
  • No hot-dogging or show-boating.
  • During the 15 minute break, there will be a musical performance by the National Labor Relations Board's "Rappin' Mediator."
  • The AMPTP must withdraw excessively unfavorable proposals if the WGA team chants "Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go."
  • Each negotiating team member must bring a covered dish.
  • To determine the final internet residuals formula, the WGA will pick one of 26 silver briefcases held by models.
  • The session will begin with an attempt to resolve a minor negotiating issue: the WGA wants to be able to sit at the table, while the AMPTP is demanding 100% of the chairs for themselves.

University of Iowa Ombuds Profiled

Cynthia Joyce, the full-time ombuds for the University of Iowa, is profiled in the campus newsletter for faculty and staff. Joyce was hired in 2005 after looking for an university ombuds job for six years. She says, "that’s a sign that universities are moving away from hiring solely from within to hiring people who are professionally trained in conflict resolution." When asked about the most positive aspect of her work, Joyce explains:
It’s tremendously satisfying when I’m able to help someone with a problem, particularly a problem that’s gone on for a long time. Problems often have been percolating for quite some time before someone decides to sit down, face-to-face, to discuss it. I also find it very satisfying to facilitate difficult meetings, to help people address issues directly and come up with a solution. I follow up on situations and that’s when I’ll sometimes hear, “Things have improved, my relationship with X is better than it’s ever been.” I get a real high when I hear that and it keeps me motivated.

Words that will resonate with any ombuds. (U Iowa Staff & Faculty News.)

November 20, 2007

Using Email in Dispute Resolution

Although the use of email by ombuds remains limited because of confidentiality concerns, disputants continue to rely on email to discuss their concerns. Ombuds therefore should coach their visitors to use email more effectively. David A. Hoffman, a mediator, arbitrator and collaborative law attorney, provides some guidelines for using email and for overcoming the inherent problem of misinterpretation that can derail negotiations. He observes that "in a medium such as email in which there is such a narrow bandwidth for emotion to be expressed, communication of positive emotion must be intentional and robust in order to be unambiguous." He offers these examples of positive elements for an email:
  • Personal salutation – using the other person's name is a signal of respect;
  • Appreciation – a sincere "thank you" is always welcome;
  • Taking the recipient’s prior message seriously;
  • Openness – such as a request for discussion;
  • Acknowledgment - "I know you’re busy";
  • Flexibility – "please call when you have a chance";
  • Validation of the parties’ endeavor and common commitment;
  • Optimism – "looking forward to talking to you"; and
  • Personalisation – signing one’s name rather than just ending the message with a signature block.
"Because email is such a new medium," Hoffman says, "the techniques for successful communication via computer may be less intuitive and require more conscious attention." (

Perspective on Ethical Standards for Federal Mediators and Ombuds

On November 8th the Federal Interagency ADR Working Group (IADRWG), Contracts and Procurement and Workplace Conflict Management Sections, sponsored a presentation on Ethical Standards for Federal Mediators and Ombuds. Howard Gadlin, who is the Ombudsman and Director of the Center for Cooperative Resolution at the National Institutes of Health, explained how the ethical standards for ombuds differ from those for mediators. Gadlin articulated the ombud's unique dilemma of being the "inside outsider," where the virtues of the job can quickly become liabilities. A summary of the event is available from the American Bar Association, Section on Dispute Resolution. (ABA DR Section.)

November 19, 2007

Chronicle of Higher Ed Highlights UNT as Example of Ombuds Growth

The Chronicle of Higher Education announced the appointment of Belinda Newman as the new ombuds at the University of North Texas and noted:

North Texas is not alone in creating and expanding the role of campus ombudsman in recent years. The International Ombudsman Association points to recent master's thesis by a Cornell University student, Mary J. Newhart, which took note of "a rapid growth in the number of ombudsmen offices" on U.S. campuses. Ms. Newhart identified more than 200 practicing ombudsmen at colleges nationwide, a significant increase over earlier published estimates that put the figure at 120 to 150. (Chronicle of Higher Ed.)

Unfortunately, the lede was "Expanded Arbitration." Drat!

Related posts: New Research Shows Strong Growth in Number of University Ombuds; U. North Texas Appoints Ombuds and Expands Office.

November 18, 2007

Howard County Schools Hires New Ombuds and Plans New Limits on Authority

Earlier this month, the Howard County Public School System introduced Rosemarie Dennison as its new ombuds. Dennison began on November 6 and will work 24 hours per week at an annual salary of $30,240. Dennison is the former head of community advisory group and her son is a student in the school system. Dennison is a licensed graduate social worker with a Masters Degree from the University of Maryland and she also is certificated in mediation. (HCPSS News; Columbia Flier.)

Meanwhile, the HCPSS Board of Education is set to significantly revise its policy defining the ombuds office. In some respects the changes are appropriate, including clarification that the ombuds is not an agent for notice and an explicit emphasis on timely problem resolution. In addition, the ombuds office will now serve school employees.

Other proposed revisions, however, are troubling, including:
  • Removed references to the independence of the Ombudsman;
  • Added responsibility for policy input;
  • Added requirements to maintain confidential records and databases;
  • Added requirement will "champion Board policies and systemwide goals, procedures, and initiatives"; and
  • Removed any reference to TOA or other ombuds professional standards.

A hearing on the proposed changes is set for November 29. (HCPSS Report on Ombuds Policy Changes; Baltimore Sun.)

The pending decision to move away from the professional standards of practice is both unusual and unexpected.

Prior posts: Job Posting; Howard County Schools Reviewing Applications.

November 15, 2007

U. North Texas Appoints Ombuds and Expands Office

The University of North Texas has named Belinda K. Newman as its new Ombuds. With Newman's appointment on December 10, 2007, the UNT Office of the Ombuds will expand its service to include staff as well as faculty. Newman earned her bachelor's, masters and doctoral degrees from Texas A&M and has more than 25 years of higher education experience in Texas. Most recently, Newman served as provost of the Collin Community College District's Preston Ridge campus. Newman earned a mediation certificate from CDR Associates in Colorado and has experience in mediation and dispute resolution. She also has worked as a legislative aide and intern in the Texas Legislature. (UNT News.)

November 12, 2007

House Bill Would Create College Accreditation Ombuds

The House Education and Labor Committee released a long-awaited bill to address the soaring price of college and remove other obstacles that make it harder for qualified students to go to college. The 747-page College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 (HR 4137) offers a wide range of proposals covering student loan ethics, financial aid simplification, accreditation, help for students with disabilities, and more. The bill would also create a new federal ombudsman to intervene in disputes related to accreditation. (Inside Higher Ed;
Chronicle of Higher Ed;
HR 4137 History; Bill Text.)

November 11, 2007

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser is seeking a part-time Healthcare Ombuds/Mediator for San Diego, CA. The position requires an advanced degree, training and relevant experience as an ombuds or mediator. Clinical experience is also preferred. No salary or closing date. (HotJobs.)

As far as I can tell, this is the first, part-time ombuds-only position outside of higher education. Although I can't understand why Kaiser doesn't need a full-time ombuds in San Diego, I am glad it is not requiring the person to wear two hats.

Job Posting: Eaton Corp.

Eaton Corporation has an opening for a Field Ombudsman serving Latin America and the Caribbean. Although the ombudsman position is designed to be a neutral dispute resolution practitioner who provides informal, independent, and confidential assistance to all employees, the position also "will do fact-finding and assist with problem resolution of issues between employees and the organization." An advanced degree, work experience, and proficiency in Spanish, Portuguese, and English is preferred. No salary or closing date indicated. (

Job Posting: Ramapo College

Ramapo College in New Jersey is looking to hire a half-time ombuds to serve staff, faculty and students. The position reports to the president and adheres to IOA standards. No closing date or salary indicated. (Ramapo College, position no. 1689, via HigherEdJobs.)

November 10, 2007

Update: Tenn. Appoints Open Records Ombuds

Tennessee State Comptroller John Morgan has appointed Ann Butterworth, one of his deputies, as director of the newly created Office of Open Records Ombudsman. Butterworth will wear two hats and continue as assistant to the comptroller for public finance. Butterworth, who has worked for the Comptroller’s Office since 1987, has a law degree from Vanderbilt University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University. Elisha Hodge, who currently serves as assistant general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Health, was also hired as the open records specialist. The Tennessee Legislature approved $100,000 to fund the ombudsman office under the State Comptroller, but has not defined the position's responsibilities. (Associated Press, via WBIR; News2WKRN.)

Prior posts: Tenn. Gov. Opposes Plan to Fragment Responsibilities of New Open Records Ombuds; Tenn. Gov. Hopes New Ombuds Office Will Reduce Lawsuits.

November 09, 2007

Auburn Faculty Revives Effort to Create Ombuds

The Auburn University Senate has renewed its call for a university ombudsperson for faculty, staff and other employees with internal conflicts. A similar resolution passed more than a year ago was never enacted by then-President Ed Richardson. The current University President Jay Gogue has expressed support for the position and requested the resolution be resubmitted. The proposal is expected to come before the Senate for a vote at its next meeting on January 15, 2008. (Auburn Plainsman.)

Prior post: Peek at the Long Playing Effort to Create an Ombuds Office at Auburn University.)

November 08, 2007

Congressional Effort to Create FOIA Ombuds at Impasse

Negotiations between House and Senate on an overhaul of the Freedom of Information Act have stalled and it appears likely the legislation will not be passed this year. The conference committee has been unable to resolve legislative differences involving the recovery of attorney fees if requesters succeed in suing to force release of information. There appears to be little disagreement over the the House and Senate provisions that would create an ombudsman to mediate FOIA disputes. (

Prior posts: Senate Approves FOIA Bill, Including Ombuds; Coalition Advocates Federal FOIA Ombuds; Are Ombuds the Solution to FOIA Disputes?

November 05, 2007

ENOHE Conference in London

The European Network for Ombudsmen in Higher Education will hold its sixth annual conference in London, April 15-17, 2008 (which overlaps the IOA conference in Boston). The theme is "Universities, Students and Justice." The event is hosted by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education for England and Wales and sponsored by Clifford Chance. (ENOHE Info; Event Flyer.)

Job Posting: African Development Bank Group

The multilateral development bank is seeking applications for the second of two ombuds positions. The job is limited to a term of five years (including the initial three years contract) and is located in Tunisia. Selection criteria include a Master’s degree or equivalent; preferably at least seven years of experience; ability to communicate and write in English or French; and competence in standard software applications. No salary information available; applications are due by November 30. (ADBG Vacancy Notice.)

Update: CDC Ombuds Funding Safe

The Senate did not incorporate an amendment to the DHHS appropriations bill that would have defunded the Centers for Disease Control Ombuds Office. A conference committee report on the House and Senate bills is pending. (HR 3043 status.)

Prior post: Coburn Amendment Would Defund CDC Ombuds.

November 02, 2007

Job Posting: Dell Inc.

Dell is hiring an "Ombuds Consultant" for its ombuds office in Round Rock, Texas. No salary or closing date indicated. (Dell Careers, job id. no. 07000I54.)

November 01, 2007

Carole Houk Awarded 5-Year Contract With Dept. of Interior

Carole Houk International has been awarded a five-year contract to provide conflict management and associated support to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Houk will support the Department's Office of Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution in its implementation of an integrated conflict management system that emphasizes cooperative problem-solving techniques such as training, mediation, facilitation, conflict coaching, ombuds services, and alternative dispute resolution.
(Earth Times; Carole Houk International.)