February 11, 2008

California Appellate Court Details Intervention by UCI Ombuds

A recently published decision by a California appellate court detailed the involvement of the Ombuds at the University of California Irvine. The case arose out of a decision by the UCI History Department denying advancement to a Ph.D. student. When the student sought assistance, the Ombuds “intervened” with the department. In an email the Ombudsman posed a number of specific questions to Department Chair,
“meant to revisit the decision in the interest of procedural fairness [regarding] first-year review and not the substance of the discussion leading to the outcome during the first-year review.” Essentially, the Ombudsman made clear he was questioning the process, and was not attempting to second-guess the academic decisions of the faculty. Many of the questions were focused on whether students were being given adequate notice of what was expected, and given the earliest possible notice of deficiencies.

The History Department renewed its recommendation that the student be awarded a terminal master's degree, but offered him a second chance on certain conditions.
Ultimately however, the student was terminated from the University and filed suit. The appellate court upheld summary judgment for UCI in part and returned a few remaining claims to the trial court. Subsequently, the case settled. (Lachtman v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 158 Cal. App. 4th 187, 70 Cal. Rptr. 3d 147, 2007 Cal. App. LEXIS 2063 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2007).)

As a published decision, this case may be cited as precedent by California courts. Although the court did not address the propriety and scope of the Ombuds' limited involvement, readers may question how the Ombuds’ email came into evidence.

Related post: UC Irvine Appoints Ombuds Office Director.

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