January 29, 2008

Harvard Recruiting Internally

The ombuds program at the Kennedy School for Government at Harvard University has a vacancy for a staff ombudsman. Access to the application questionnaire is limited to faculty, staff, students and alumni. No salary or other details are available. Applications are due by January 31, 2008. (KSG Ombuds, thanks Indu.)

International Mediation Institute Reveals Certification Plans

As the International Ombudsman Association considers implementing a certification program, valuable insights may be gleaned from another professional ADR organization confronting the same issues. A subcommittee of the International Mediation Institute has released proposed standards, criteria and guidelines for a mediator competency certification system and is seeking comment from practitioners. It is fascinating to see how IMI is dealing with issues of training, testing, grandfathering and discipline. (IMI Draft Standards.)

January 28, 2008

Spate of Nonconforming Job Postings

There have been a number of job postings for Ombuds positions in higher education that do not comply with the IOA Code of Ethics and and Standards of Practice:

East Stroudsburg University - Director of Diversity/Ombudsperson
“The Director represents the university in investigation of complaints of discrimination filed by students, faculty, administration, staff ,and visitors and assures fundamental fairness to every member of the campus community by working within the institution to facilitate equitable resolution to equity complaints.”

Texas A & M - Assistant Dean (Ombudsperson for Graduate Education)
“Provide direction on the daily operations of the Office of Graduate Studies...; Provide administrative supervision for human resources activities within the Office of Graduate Studies...; Provide administrative oversight for approval of graduate student non-resident tuition waivers and tuition payments.”

Winona State University - Affirmative Action Officer
“Serve as the university’s ombudsperson and primary resource person for administrators, faculty, staff, and students on AA/EO law.”

Cornell University - Assistant Ombudsperson
“The Assistant Ombudsman investigates, finds facts and makes recommendations for settlement of complaints brought by any person at the University against persons exercising authority at all levels of Cornell University.”

In one way or another, these positions are (or will be perceived to be) non-confidential, biased, formal or agents for their institutions. IOA could be reaching out to these institutions
on behalf of the Ombuds profession with information and materials. Although IOA is preoccupied currently with more pressing concerns, this should become a secondary mandate as soon as possible. On an individual level, practicing Ombuds should contact any institution they have a connection with, to provide encouragement and counsel. Being proactive in this way will only strengthen the profession.

Confronting and Negotiating with Employers and Managers

Jay Morrisey's blog dispenses life advice with refreshing clarity and directness. A recent post provides tips for negotiating with, or confronting someone in authority:
  1. Never go over someone’s head
  2. Confidence
  3. Always talk in a private setting
  4. Diffuse predictable intimidation
  5. Assurance before discipline
  6. Assurance after discipline
  7. Feedback and Positive Reinforcement
While this advice is familiar, I appreciate Jay's approach. Ombuds also may be interested in his post about resolving heated arguments. (JayMorrissey.com.)

January 25, 2008

Ombuds Music

Mediators and bloggers, Diane Levin and Christopher Annunziata, have posted lists of songs for mediators. Some of these work for ombuds, too:
  • We Can Work It Out - John Lennon and Paul McCartney
  • (What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding - Elvis Costello
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones
  • Come Together - The Beatles
  • Enjoy the Silence - Depeche Mode
  • Everything’s Not Lost - Coldplay
  • No One Said It Would Be Easy - Sheryl Crow
(Mediation Channel; CKA Mediation and Arbitration Blog.)
Any one else with suggestions?

January 24, 2008

UPDATE: White House Seeks to Move FOIA Ombuds to Justice Dept.

Senators Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn are speaking out against a White House proposal to move the newly-created FOIA ombuds from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Department of Justice. In a little-noticed floor speech on Wednesday, Leahy said that “Such a move is not only contrary to the express intent of the Congress, but it is also contrary to the very purpose of this legislation — to ensure the timely and fair resolution of American’s FOIA requests.” The Office of Management and Budget said that any criticism is premature because the final budget. Nonetheless, advocacy groups are concerned. Pete Weitzel, head of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, strongly oppose moving the funding, estimated to be about $6 million. “The idea of shifting to Justice is ludicrous,” Weitzel said. “Justice has a clear conflict of interest,” since the Justice Department represents federal agencies in disputes with FOIA requesters. (Leahy's Floor Speech; Austin American-Statesman; Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.)

This development could significantly handicap a high profile ombuds program and erode confidence in the profession. It's time for IOA (and/or USOA) to weigh in.

Prior post: Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President.

U Toronto Expands Ombuds Office

In an effort to raise its profile and increase services, the University of Toronto Ombuds Office is welcoming a new member to its team for the first time in more than a decade. University Ombudsperson Joan Foley has hired Garvin DeFour, expanding the team at the office from two to three. DeFour has worked for the Ontario Ombudsman and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. As case manager for the office, he will handle all frontline work on cases. (News@UofT.)

Harvard's First Ombuds Passes

Henry Ehrenreich, Harvard University's first Ombuds, passed away on Sunday, January 20, 2008. Ehrenreich was an emeritus professor and expert on condensed matter theory when he was tapped in October 2002 to establish the ombuds office. (Harvard SEAS News; The Harvard Crimson.)

January 23, 2008

Student Gadfly Accuses Central Michigan Ombuds

In October 2007, a Central Michigan University junior, Dennis Lennox, mounted a campaign to force a Democratic congressional candidate out of a prestigious faculty job. The politically conservative student was later charged with violating university policy for improperly distributing literature on campus. In the latest development, Lennox has accused the CMU Ombuds, Susan Rademacher, of "sharing the contents of their conversation that he had with her" with the Dean of Students. A local conservative publication political blog has urged readers to contact Rademacher to complain and provided her email address. (ABC News; OutsideLansing.com; The Provocatuer.)

At best, the complaint against Rademacher appears to be based on vague hearsay. There is no explanation of how Lennox learned that Rademacher allegedly spoke to the Dean of Students or what was communicated. Indeed one leaked email indicates that Lennox and Rademacher never met. Unfortunately, the IOA Code and Standards preclude Rademacher from offering any information in her own defense. Hopefully a hearing later this month will clarify matters, including the role of the Ombuds.

HBR: Principles of Investigative Negotiation

An article in the Harvard Business Review recommends "investigative negotiation," as a method of expanding agreement options and forging more successful resolutions. Authors Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman delineate five principles of investigative negotiation:
  1. Ask why the other side wants what it wants;
  2. Mitigate the other party’s constraints;
  3. Interpret demands as opportunities;
  4. Create common ground with adversaries; and
  5. Investigate even if the deal seems lost.
Solid advice for ombuds coaching visitors. (HBR in Brief.)

The Role of Emotional Engagement in Dispute Resolution

Research indicates that emotional engagement is more important than rational reasoning in influencing people and winning their trust and cooperation. Private mediator Dale Eilerman provides some techniques for eliciting engagement in the course of conflict management. His approach provides a welcome gloss on the traditional steps employed by facilitators. (Mediate.com.)

January 22, 2008

Job Posting: Cornell

Cornell University is seeking a full-time, Assistant Ombudsperson to assist students, faculty and staff. According to the job posting: "The Assistant Ombudsman investigates, finds facts and makes recommendations for settlement of complaints brought by any person at the University against persons exercising authority at all levels of Cornell University." [Emphasis added.] Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree and at least five to seven years related experience or the equivalent. No salary or closing date provided. (Jobs at Cornell, job no. 08055.)

Related post: Student's Lawsuit Against Cornell and Its University Ombuds Lives On.

Ombuds Urged for Suffolk County Employes

Suffolk County legislators have been balking at the reappointment of Social Services Commissioner Janet DeMarz, an effective commissioner who has a reputation for being tough on staff. With public opinion turning in DeMarz's favor, Legislator Jack Eddington has said he will back reappointment if DeMarz hires an ombudsman to aid staff relations. (Newsday.)

Are Press Ombuds In Decline?

The Democracy Project laments the apparent decline of the press ombudsman movement, which once promised to be true “readers representatives,” delving inside their venues to investigate what went wrong. “Instead, most ombudsmen spend their valuable space occasionally correcting a minor matter but most often telling customers that they’re wrong to expect integrity or accuracy.” According to the Democracy Project, membership in the Organization of New Ombudsmen has dropped from 44 in 2001 to 36 at present. (Democracy Project.)

Palo Alto to Consider Ombuds for City Employees

The Palo Alto City Auditor has urged the municipality to create a formal ethics policy for its public employees and implement an employee hot line to respond to misconduct. In her response to the audit, Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison said staff has a "number of reservations" about creating a complaint hot line and may consider hiring an ombudsman. (Palo Alto Daily News; Palo Alto Audit Report.)

Plain English Employee Manual

Last week, the Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times, distributed a new employee handbook written in plain English. At 3,663 words, the new Tribune manual is about a third as long as the dense, 11,519-word edition it replaced. The document is nothing like the mind-numbing, lawyered jargon in most corporate manuals. It opens with two rules: Rule #1: Use your best judgment; Rule #2: See Rule 1. The objective is to open communications with employees, but some lawyers warn that the plain language and jocular tone may make it a legal minefield. (LA Times; Tribune Policy Manual.) As an ombuds, who frequently reads employee manuals and urges better communication, I hope this is a harbinger.

Footnote: Just days after the new handbook was announced, the editor of the LA Times was forced out after disagreeing with plans to shrink the newsroom budget. (LA Times.)

January 18, 2008

Job Posting: University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina is accepting applications for an Assistant to the Vice President and Ombudsperson. This is a dual role appointment. The administrative position (Assistant to the VP) coordinates the central office administrative functions for the Division of Student Affairs & Department of Academic Support. As an ombuds, this position "serves as the liaison with academic units on student crisis management, coordinates divisional and institutional responses on non-academic grievances, revises policy and procedure manuals, and establishes effective communication programs related to ombuds services." A master's degree and five years related experience (or equivalent) is required. Minimum salary is $43,771. The job has been posted since December 14, 2007, and will remain open until filled. (USC HR, requisition no. 044169.)

As configured, this position may be perceived as having a conflict of interest, especially with regard to student concerns about the Division of Student Affairs & Department of Academic Support.

January 17, 2008

Responding to Threats in Negotiation

The latest podcast from the Harvard Project on Negotiation offers three steps to deal with threats and ultimatums during negotiation:
  1. Consider whether ignoring the threat is the best option;
  2. Probe the motivation and intent behind the threat; and
  3. Decide whether there is an obligation to make amends.
Since these tactics and strategies have application beyond negotiations, ombuds will find them valuable. (PONcast.)

Tim Gunn: Ombuds?

Generally, I'm not a fan of reality TV. I get enough reality as an ombuds, listening to the trials and tribulations of my visitors. However, I do watch "Project Runway." The contestants, judges and fashion design are only marginally interesting; I watch mostly because of Tim Gunn. Ostensibly, Gunn who is a fashion expert in his own right is there simply to get the contestant designers to talk about their work for the cameras. But he is much more than that. Gunn acts as a mentor, coach, dean and facilitator. He is urbane, wise, empathetic and witty. And he has the vocabulary of an academic. I suspect he also gives informal feedback to the producers of the show. For these reasons, I consider him an honorary ombuds.

Related post: An Ombuds By Any Other Name.

January 16, 2008

Job Posting: LSU AgCenter

The Louisiana State University Agriculture Center is accepting applications for a part-time employee ombuds. The newly-created position reports to the Chancellor and will be a member of IOA. An advanced degree is required and experience in higher education or dispute resolution is preferred. Applications are due February 15. (LSU AgCenter.)

ABA Dispute Resolution Annual Conference

Registration is now open for the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution's 10th Annual Spring Conference to be held at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel & Towers. The conference, "Pacific Currents: Sound Perspectives on ADR," runs from April 3 through 5. The 90 concurrent sessions include some familiar names. Wilbur Hicks from the World Bank will discuss "Diversity in the International Non-Governmental Organization: What Kind of Diversity Do We Need?" And Bruce MacAlister will explore "The Dark Side of ADR: Meeting the Challenges of Proliferating Models in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution. Are they all good?" Early Bird discounts are available until February 22. (Conf. Info.)

January 15, 2008

UT Austin Screening for Faculty Ombuds

The University of Texas at Austin is reviewing nominations for tenured professors for Faculty Ombudsperson and, possibly, for an Assistant Ombudsperson position. The appointment will replace Stan Roux, who has served a two-year term. According to the announcement, the faculty ombuds will receive mediation training from the UT Law School's Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution. There is no mention of IOA training, membership or standards or practice. (UTA Faculty Council Memo.)

Where's the logic in this? If the position is trained only as a mediator, the university should use that title instead. The arrangement seems to lack integrity.

Related post: UT Student Govt. Backs Texas Ombuds Legislation.

Understanding Workplace Jealosies

From an ombuds' rational perspective as a neutral party, visitor concerns about petty office inequities can be confounding. For example, employees can become so preoccupied about coworkers salaries and perks that morale suffers, even when individual compensation packages are above industry or company averages. Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine, explains the latest research in the fields of behavioral economics, neuroeconomics and evolutionary economics. Studies indicate that irrational and emotional responses to relative monetary standing is a trait we've inherited genetically because it is found in other primates. Simply put, relative social ranking often trumps absolute financial status. (LA Times.) Understanding and acknowledging this primal impulse may be critical to addressing associated conflicts.

Related post: Why Some Men Negotiate Irrationally.

Opinion of Boss Drives Most Decisions to Quit

A survey of office workers finds that bosses have more influence on their employees than salary or other factors. Almost three-fourths of survey respondents would be willing to change jobs because of their boss. U.S. workers want a boss who lets them work independently but is accessible when needed. Communication and listening skills top the qualities that respondents seek in a boss, followed by effective leadership skills and trusting that the employee will perform his or her job well, according to findings released last week. (SHRM.)

This type of data could be useful to buttress upward feedback about a problem supervisor.

Related post: When the Boss is a Bully or Jerk.

January 12, 2008

University of Hawaii Issues First Annual Report

The University of Hawaii at Manoa, which opened in August 2006, has issued its first annual report. In its inaugural year, the office handled 359 cases, in addition to all of the other work that goes into creating an office from scratch. (UHM Ombuds Report.)

January 11, 2008

Job Posting: Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic Health System, East Region, is looking to hire a patient ombudsman. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and 3 years of related experience. No salary or closing date indicated. (OhioJobNetwork.com.)

It is not clear whether this is the same position Cleveland Clinic advertised last October. (Ombuds Blog.)

Job Posting: Iowa State University

Iowa State is seeking applications for a part-time University Ombuds. This is a twelve month position, renewable annually. A "new hire" into the position (without previous ISU service) or a hire of an ISU retiree will be on a contract basis. Salary to be negotiated. Applications are due by February 15. (ISU Jobs, Vacancy ID 080016; via JobNation.com.)

The ISU Ombuds Office was created and opened in August 2006 with two part-time staff members hired to serve as a resource for faculty, staff, and graduate and professional students. Through the first eight months of the year, the ombuds officers received 251 contacts. This job posting is the next step in making the office permanent. (ISU Strategic Plan Progress Report, see p. 12; Professional and Scientific Council Meeting Minutes, see attachment "Support for Continuation of the ISU Ombuds Office.")

January 10, 2008

Texas Tech Ombuds to Help Administer Student Relief Funds

A new program at Texas Tech will provide emergency loans to students in need. The Red Raider Relief Fund was established to help students who are ineligible for assistance through more formal sources. The ombuds for students, Katherine Quilliam, said, "I've been ombudsman since June of 2000, and I discovered very quickly that students that nobody else knew what to do with would often be sent to my office, and the problem is those students were financially destitute." The Student Government Association and Parents Association collaborated to establish the fund, which now has about $5,000 available.

Students seeking assistance will be evaluated by Quilliam, who will ask for permission to share the information with the SGA and Parents Association. Upon approval, a check is written to pay the student's debt. Students who accept a loan will agree to financial counseling and seek any other resource deemed appropriate by the ombudsman. Collection of the repayment will be handled by the Parents Association. (Daily Toreador.)

Related posts: Profile of Texas Tech's Ombuds for Students; Texas Tech Considering Faculty Ombuds.

This is an innovative solution to a problem that plays upon ombuds' empathetic nature. It would be tempting for ombuds to have discretionary funds to dispense to visitors who seem to be falling through the cracks. However, when an ombuds becomes a financial gatekeeper, it imperils their mandate to be neutral and impartial.

January 09, 2008

Activist Urges Ombuds for Des Moines Public Schools

At its public meeting on January 8, the Des Moines Public Schools School Board heard a recommendation to establish an ombuds office. In making the suggestion, Nan Stillians said that “a fear of making complaints and suggestions still exists” among people involved with the troubled school district. (Around Des Moines; Cityview.)

Related posts from just the last six months: Ombuds Recommended for Prince William County Schools; Ombuds Urged for Boulder School District; Superintendent of New Orleans Schools to Hire Ombuds; Pasadena Schools Considering Ombuds; DC Schools Appoint First Ombuds; Howard County Schools Hires New Ombuds.

My informal survey of school district ombuds indicates that they range from purely classical to organizational in their approach. Since funds are usually scarce in public education, IOA should implement efforts to reach out to and support these new offices.

Ryerson Ombuds Blames Professors for Rising Misconduct Charges

A report issued by Ryerson University’s Ombudsperson, Nora Farrell, says professors’ mistakes are responsible for the mounting number of academic misconduct charges. Over the past year, Farrell's office has seen a 54% increase in the number of visitors charged with academic wrongdoing. “It is troubling that 30 per cent of the complaints ... were solely because of a procedural error with respect to how the charge was laid or the matter was adjudicated,” said Farrell. Diane Schulman, secretary of Ryerson Faculty Senate, said she doesn’t believe the ombuds’ numbers represent “a whole lot of students.” (The Eyeopener; Annual Report.)

January 08, 2008

IOA Announces Board Nominees

Eleven ombuds have been nominated for the International Ombudsman Association Board of Directors. When electronic voting ends on February 1, five will be appointed to the Board. In addition, there are two nominations for the single associate member representative. To supplement the candidates' statements provided by IOA, here is a collection of further information about the candidates.

Board of Directors Candidates
Associate Member Representative Candidates
Related post: Balloting Begins for IOA Board.

UN Budget Increases Funds and Scope of Ombuds Office

On December 22, 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a two-year budget of $4.17 billion. The budget included the first significant revision of the UN’s internal justice system in six decades and will implement formal dispute resolution procedures. In addition, increased funds will allow the Office of the Ombudsman to open branches in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, and to establish a mediation division. (Associated Press; UN Press Release; UN Report of the Redesign Panel, Document A/61/936; UN Report on Activities of the Ombudsman, Document A/62/311.)

Ohio U. Ombuds Issues Annual Report and Considers Adopting IOA Reporting Categories

Ohio University’s ombuds released its annual report and hinted at format changes in the future. According to the report by University Ombudsman Elizabeth Graham, administrators and African American visitors have increased substantially. In total, the office was contacted by about 400 visitors last year. Looking to the future, Graham may begin using the International Ombudsman Association’s uniform reporting categories. The report could better fit the information-seeking, resource-management function the office serves, Graham said. A decision to adopt the new format could happen as early as this quarter. (The [OU] Post.)

January 07, 2008

Job Posting: Cal Poly Pomona

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona is accepting applications for its University Ombuds Director. This is a new and fully IOA-compliant office serving faculty, staff and students. A master's degree and three years of experience are required; an advance degree and conflict training is preferred. Priority will be given to applications received by February 15. No salary info is available. (Cal Poly Pomona HR.)

New Conflict Coaching Special Interest Group

The International Coach Federation has established a Special Interest Group to concentrate on conflict coaching. The hosts, Cinnie Noble and Ed Modell plan to bring together various professionals, including ombuds and mediators, to share best practices and applications across a range of contexts. Monthly teleconferences will include guest speakers and topic-focused discussions and will be held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, 5:00-6:00 pm Eastern beginning January 22, 2008. This is a service to members of ICF although non-ICF members are welcome to join up to two calls. For more info, contact Cinnie (cinnie[at-sign]cinergycoaching[dot]com) or Ed (EdModell[at-sign]aol[dot]com). For more about conflict coaching, Mediate.com has some good articles. (ICF Special Interest Groups; Mediate.com.)

Thanks, Ed!

January 02, 2008

Job Posting: US Postal Service

The United States Postal Service is seeking a Manager of Conflict Management for its Dispute Resolution Services Department. The position develops and manages national policies for alternative dispute resolution programs in an integrated conflict management system. A degree or certification in Dispute Resolution or related field is preferred and current career Postal Service employees are ineligible to apply. The salary range is $60,913-$118,300 and applications are due January 16, 2008. (USPS Announcement.)