September 29, 2008

University of Wisconsin Ombuds Issues Annual Report

The Faculty and Staff Ombuds Program at UW-Madison issued its annual summary of activity for the 2007-2008 academic year. In the last year, the Ombuds handled 63 cases, nearly half of which were brought by academic staff. The report also noted that many visitors had multiple concerns and identified a total of 249 issues during the year. The report also offered some insights on the role of the Ombuds Program at UW-Madison. With few exceptions, Ombuds visitors have commented on the value of discussing their problems confidentially with someone knowledgeable and with no personal involvement with the matter at hand. (UW-Madison Ombuds Report.)

Related post: U. Wisconsin Adds Ombuds.

September 28, 2008

Washington State Schools Ombuds Describes First Year

The Seattle Times interviews Adie Simmons, Washington's Education Ombudsman--the first state-level K-12 ombudsman in the nation. Last year, her office assisted 2,170 families in its first full school year of operation and found that bullying was the most common issue. (Seattle Times.)

Related posts: Washington State Education Ombudsman Begins Offering Services; Job Posting.

September 26, 2008

Texas Tech Fetes Retiring Ombuds, Introduces Successor

At a reception this week, Texas Tech celebrated the retirement of its first student Ombuds. Kathryn Quilliam created the Ombuds program more than seven years ago after working for the university for two decades. Quilliam said she fulfilled all of her goals as student ombudsman, which included the creation and solidification of an office that is both effective and respected on the campus. The position will now be filled by Drew Canham, who previously worked for Texas Tech's Student Judicial Programs. "I certainly have a good office to step into and excellent shoes to fill," Canham said. "It's nice to step into a job knowing everything has gone so well." Canham earned his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University in 2003 and a Ph.D. from TTU last year. (Daily Toreador.)

September 23, 2008

Appointment of Interim Ombuds at McGill Raises Concerns

Student leaders at McGill University in Montreal are concerned by the appointment of Linda Jacobs Starkey as Interim Ombuds because she continues to serve as associate dean of students. McGill Students' Society Vice-President of University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson worried about the effect of the perceived conflict of interest created by the dual role. "Legitimacy should be the strongest asset in the ombudsperson's portfolio," Wilkinson said. An editorial in the student newspaper also criticized the appointment:
Ideally, the ombudsperson should be drawn from outside the McGill administration to emphasize their independence. At the very least, they shouldn't be serving simultaneously as an ombudsperson and an administrator.

The solution to the current problem lies in Jacobs Starkey's title: interim ombudsperson. Four weeks is an acceptable interim. Four months is not. The Tribune would like to see a new ombudsperson appointed before the end of the current semester. We urge the committee responsible to meet as soon as possible, and we urge the administration to expedite the appointment process. After all, cutting through red tape is what the ombudsperson is all about.

The administration defended the decision and has said that a committee to appoint a permanent Ombuds meet before the end of the semester to discuss potential candidates. (McGill Tribune News; Opinion.)

Related post: McGill Surveys Students to Develop Ombuds Mandate.

University of Victoria Ombuds Office Marks 30 Years

On October 6, the University of Victoria in British Columbia will celebrate the Ombuds Office’s 30 years of service. Current and past UVic Ombuds and members of the Ombudsperson Advisory Committee will attend. Kim Carter, Ombudsman for British Columbia will offer remarks on "The Importance of an Independent Voice for Fairness - the Ombudsman in a University Context." (UVic Communications.)

Related post: Northwest Ombuds Group Meeting.

September 22, 2008

UN Ombuds to Address International Humanitarian Conference

John Barkat, the United Nations Ombudsman and Assistant Secretary-General, is a featured speaker at the Academic Council on the United Nations System conference later this week. The meeting marks the opening of ACUNS European Center in Marseille and will focus on challenges facing the international humanitarian community. Barkat will welcome participants and offer keynote remarks. (Press Release; ACUNS Conf.; Agenda.)

University of Nebraska Introduces Ombuds

Sharon Ulmar, assistant to the chancellor for Diversity and Equality Opportunity, provided more information about the three recently appointed Ombuds for the University of Nebraska Omaha. Tracie Anderson, who has worked at UNO for 20 years, is the assistant director of New Student Orientation and will respond to management visitors. Mark Scherer, will serve as the faculty Ombuds and is also associate professor of history. He is a former attorney and has a background in legal history, constitutional history and Native American legal history. Ronda Sheibal-Carver, is staff assistant in Public Administration and will handle staff cases. She has worked at UNO for over 22 years. (UNO Gateway.)

September 18, 2008

Federal FOIA Ombuds Office Remains in Limbo

Although it has been nine months since Congress passed a bill to establish an Ombuds office to mediate Freedom of Information Act disputes, the office has yet to become a reality. Implementation was delayed when the Bush administration attempted to move the new Office of Government Information Services from the National Archives, where Congress placed it, to the Justice Department. At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Committe on Oversight and Government Reform, witnesses stressed that the OGIS office should remain at the National Archives in order to preserve its role as an independent mediator in FOIA disputes. Several panelists offered specific recommendations, including Terry Mutchler, who worked as a state open records ombudsman in Illinois and is now establishing a new Pennsylvania ombudsman office. Mutchler said the new federal ombudsman office must have an independent director who is committed to open government, to a mission focused on open government, and who can establish a structure and process for dealing with disputes. Rick Blum of the Sunshine in Government Initiative agreed, saying that, "It needs to be a completely independent office." (Government Executive; FOIA Blog;
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.)

Prior posts: Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President; Bush Defunds FOIA Ombuds Program; Senate Approves Funding for New FOIA Ombuds Office.

Independence is one of the basic criteria that defines an Ombudsman (whether classical or organizational). Let's be honest, an Ombuds office without independence would be either a paper tiger or political puppet; an "Ombuds" in name only.

September 17, 2008

East Coast Ombuds Group Meeting October 20

The next East Coast Ombudsman Group Meeting (ECOG) take place on on Monday, October 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ombuds of all types are welcome and the cost is $35 just per person, which includes lunch. Please RSVP to Robin Cheung (robin[underscore]cheung[atsign]hms[dot]harvard[dot]edu) or 617-432-4041. For further directions and parking requests please contact Kate Schenck (kates[atsign]mit[dot]edu) or 617-253-5921. Parking is extremely limited and must be reserved by October 10.

September 16, 2008

Cyclists Seek Changes for USOC Ombuds

Despite receiving an apology from the US Olympic Organizing Committee, four cyclists who were rebuked for wearing masks at the Beijing Airport are hoping to make the USOC Ombuds more accessible. With the help of attorney Christopher Campbell and Mark Henderson, chair of the athletes’ advisory committee, the cyclists seek to change the USOC’s policies, which would require the Ombudsman to be stationed in the Olympic village. Henderson explained that the Ombuds immediate presence could have saved a lot of heartache. (NY Times.)

Prior post:
US Cyclists Criticize Absence of Olympic Ombuds.

Kaiser Ombuds was Victim of Chatsworth Train Crash

One of the victims of the Metrolink accident in Southern California was Beverly Mosely, an HealthCare Ombuds Mediator with Kaiser Permanente. According to an email from Dr. Benjamin K. Chu, president of Kaiser Permanente Southern California:
Beverly Mosely, ombudsman for Panorama City Medical Center, was killed in the accident. Beverly, who worked for Kaiser Permanente for more than 20 years in a variety of roles, is survived by her mother, two adult daughters - Nicki and Tina - and a two-month old grandson, Kingston. She enjoyed music, especially jazz, and had a beautiful singing voice. She also liked to travel and golf.
* * *
When her colleagues speak about Beverly and her work, they mention her compassion and her knack for knowing when someone needed a hug. They say she had an ability to connect with people and a smile that would light up a room. She was known as a "guardian angel" to our patients and their families during some of the most challenging times in their lives.
(Jillen's LiveJournal; Downtown News.)

9/18/08 Update: LA Times.

University of Wisconsin Appoints Ombuds for Veterans

The University of Wisconsin, Madison, has appointed a new assistant dean for veterans and ombuds service. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Bechtol, former director of UW’s ROTC, was hired to fill this new position, which was created for the 592 currently enrolled and growing number of veterans. “My job is dealing and being a single point of contact not with just current veterans, but folks coming off of active duty, service folks who have served in the Guard, and those who have served previously,” Bechtol said. (The Badger Herald.)

Related post: Volunteer Ombuds Settle Thousands of National Guard Reemployment Disputes.

September 15, 2008

UC Riverside Ombuds Expands Extern/Intern Program

Indu Sen, the Ombuds for the University of California Riverside, has announced that a UCR student will hold the first Forrest S. Mosten Internship in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies. Sen also hopes to appoint a second, paid internship funded by Southern California Mediation Association shortly. At that point, the UCR Ombuds Office will have an extern performing the functions of an Associate Ombudsman, and two interns performing non-confidential duties and developing a campus mediation program. Sen says that offices struggling with a lack of resources can find creative ways to find help and be more effective.

Motivating Visitors to Change

Dutch psychologist and mediator, Fredrike P. Bannink, offers four basic questions for solution focused mediation:
  • What is your hoped for outcome?
  • What difference would that make?
  • What is already workings towards it?
  • What would be the next step or sign of progress?
These have clear application for Ombuds looking for an effective relationship with visitors. (

Oral History of OSU's Founding Ombuds

Ohio State University Oral History Project recently interviewed Donald W. Good, who founded the university's Ombuds office in 1970. Good describes the concerns that motivated OSU and how he worked with the campus. Some excerpts:
You can not deny that 1970 changed everything at every university in this state. And once you set that in motion, then you try to respond in various ways. Now, one way was the establishment of an Ombudsman.
* * *
You don’t want to be seen as an advocate for a group. Rather, you want to be seen as an advocate for fair play, for ethical treatment, that kind of thing. Ideological advocacy on the right side of the spectrum, or what you think is the right side of the spectrum. The other thing in leaving, it’s negative, I mentioned that just hearing these complaints all day long.
* * *
The reason you have an Ombudsman is because things are closed in a way. Routes of access are closed. Hearings are closed. Those sorts of things. The gates come down across the road. But I think universities got better at keeping access open and were well aware because, I tell you, once the Ombudsman office started, the lawyers were sitting right outside the door.

The 113-page transcript has just been made available on-line. (OSU Knowledge Bank.)

Note: The role of the OSU Ombuds Office was assumed by the Student Advocacy Center in 1996.

September 11, 2008

Journal Article Examines Organizational Ombuds at Rennes University

In 1999, the University of Rennes established an Organizational Ombuds office (médiateur) to serve its 22,000 students. A recently published article in the European Journal of Legal Education discusses how Rennes' Ombuds program was established and differs from the prevailing classical model. Three cases are presented to illustrate how the Ombuds resolved issues while respecting the critical ethical tenets. The author concludes that an Organizational Ombuds program is consistent with the European Commission's endorsement of non-legal conciliation schemes. (Conflict Resolution in Universities: the Rennes University's Ombudsman; UR Ombudsman; see also the European Commission's Green Paper on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Civil and Commercial Law.)

Note: The author, Lionel Bobot, is a professor and manager of the Conflict Resolution & Negotiation Department at NEGOCIA Business School at Paris. He is organizing a Conflict Resolution Day event in Paris on October 16, 2008. (ACR Events.)

Whistleblowers Mostly Unprotected

According to the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is failing to shield employees in the way that was intended. The non-profit group says the federal law enacted in 2002 is not protecting corporate whistleblowers and is lobbying legislators for tougher rules. According to data from the Department of Labor, it has ruled in favor of whistleblowers in fewer than 2% of the complaints filed since 2002. Many whistleblower actions have been dismissed on the grounds that employees who worked for a corporate subsidiary are not necessarily covered by the whistleblower provision, according to Richard Moberly, a University of Nebraska law professor. Tom Devine, legal director of GAP, said this could have the effect of exempting some foreign companies from the US law. "For any whistleblowers who want to challenge misconduct of foreign companies, the law is not even a paper tiger unless the specific retaliation can be traced to a parent corporation," he said. (Truthout; Wall Street Journal.)

Related posts: NASDAQ and Banking Lobby Endorse Ombuds for Accounting Oversight; Advice for Whistleblowers: Think Carefully and Talk to the Ombuds.

September 10, 2008

University of Calgary Urged to Open Ombuds Office

Shawna Cunningham, director of the university's Native Centre, says the campus has worked hard to create a welcoming environment for minorities, but more needs to be done. She said U of C needs an Ombuds office, to raise awareness of discrimination issues and educate the staff and students so they can be prevented. An Ombuds program has been considered by the administration in the past, although no details were developed. (Calgary Herald; BOG Minutes, 1/25/07; GSA Minutes, 4/23/03.)

NASAA Annual Conference Features Ombuds Meeting

The annual meeting of the North American Securities Administrators Association in Las Vegas next week will feature a session lead by current NASAA Ombuds, Don B. Saxon. The ombudsman session is a relatively recent feature of the conference. Last year, the session included discussion of legal developments and regulations affecting the financial industry. (NASAA Conf. Details; 2007 NASAA Ombuds Session.)

September 08, 2008

Magazine Explains "Vaguely Named" Ombuds Profession

Mental Floss magazine ("Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix") exposed the most vaguely named and/or unknown professions in our American capitalist system: Surveyor; Orderly; Surgeon General; Best Boy; Baby Wrangler; City Controller; Riverkeeper; and Ombudsman.
This has to be one of the more ominous sounding job titles out there – possibly because it starts with the same two letters as “ominous,” but also because if you need an ombudsman, it probably means some dank, smelly excrement has hit the fan. Whenever you’ve got a potentially explosive and litigious conflict between two entities, these guys are called in to be the middlemen, the mediators, and the last stop on the train to Lawsuit City. They attempt to resolve conflicts between private citizens and the government, disgruntled students and their university, or between an employee and his or her soul-sucking employer. Fired unfairly? Expelled without due process? Denied federal benefits? Tell it to the ombudsman.

Many news organizations (mental_floss excluded) appoint ombudsmen to handle reader complaints. We’ll put this on a list, along with “airline counter employee” and “DMV clerk,” of Jobs for Masochists Only.

Umm ... thanks? (mental_floss.)

September 07, 2008

Ombuds Prompts University of Michigan to Adopt Hardship Reimbursement Program

The university is now offering a tuition refund plan for students who are unable to complete a term due to physical or psychological illness. The reimbursement program was first suggested to Dr. Robert Winfield, chief health officer and director of University Health Service by University Ombuds Robert Holmes as a direct result of his personal dealings with students and parents in these types of situations. The program is administered through a third party, independent of the UM Ombuds Office. (UM Record.)

Related posts: Texas Tech Ombuds to Help Administer Student Relief Funds; USF Ombuds to Dispense Student Relief Funds.

Regional ACR Program Features MIT and Berklee Music Ombuds

On September 16, the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution presents “Beyond Mediation: ADR-connected Careers in Today’s Workplace” on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. Toni Robinson, an Ombuds at MIT, will share insights from her extensive experience as an Ombuds. Other panelist include James McGuire, a mediator and arbitrator with JAMS, and Doug Thompson, a mediator and director of the Environmental Practice Group for the Keystone Center. The program will be moderated by Dina Lynch Eisenberg, a workplace mediator and Ombuds for Berklee College of Music. The event starts at 5:30 and costs $50 for non-members. (ACR Update.)

September 05, 2008

UGA Professors Question Independence of New Ombuds

University professors and outside experts are concerned about the actual and perceived independence of the newly created Ombuds program at the University of Georgia.

UGA associate professor Janet Frick, who led an online petition for the Ombuds office, said the administration needs to adequately publicize the office to ensure they are "without divided loyalties." To protect the Ombuds' independence, associate professor Patricia Richards, stressed that appropriate training would be vital. Fortunately, the new Ombuds are expected to take IOA training this fall. Richards said she was worried about whether the new Ombuds would be "expected to tackle the ombuds duties along with their previous job duties."

These concerns were echoed by other observers. Brad Holland, an Ombuds at the University of Virginia said, "One of the key tenants of being an ombudsman is that you remain independent." Ombuds "can't be seen as extensions of the power structure," Luis Piñero, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant vice provost for workforce equity and diversity. "If they are not perceived as independent, people may not seek them out. That does not mean that the office will be obsolete, but if it is not structured and supported, it will not reach its potential." (The Red and Black.)

Prior UGA posts.

Lessons From Campus Mediation Apply to Ombuds

An article in this month's University Business explains why mediators are effective in helping campuses avoid litigation.
An mediator can offer a fresh perspective on the facts and law. Quite often, counsel and the client get so involved in the minutiae of waging a legal battle that they “lose the forest for the trees.” Counsel may dread the call from a client wanting an update on the status of a matter that hit their desk long ago; the client may become dissatisfied with counsel’s view of the matter, which has migrated from “optimistic” to “doubtful.”

In such cases, a mediator can provide a “reality check” about the prospects for success in litigation that counsel may have difficulty communicating to a client. A mediator who is experienced in the relevant law, who has been briefed on the issues at hand, and who has had an opportunity to “size up” the evidence and witnesses may be in a better position than counsel or client to assess a case’s strengths and weaknesses.

Similarly, a mediator doesn’t have the same emotional investment in “winning” that the counsel and parties have and is able to give a dispassionate viewpoint that can move parties away from a stalemate.

Also, in a mediated settlement parties can obtain results that may not be awarded by a court or jury. Mediation can be an extremely effective dispute resolution tool when the parties need to continue working together—such as with a staffer who is several years from retirement and feels she has been underpaid, or a student who wants an apology from campus police.

However, these reasons are just as valid for Ombuds. Perhaps even more so because Ombuds are usually involved before the dispute has drawn in attorneys. (University Business via Campus-adr Weblog.)

September 04, 2008

Western Kentucky University Names First Permanent Ombuds

WKU President Gary Ransdell has appointed Karl Laves as the university's the new faculty and staff Ombuds. "We attempted to pick someone who had the reputation, style and expertise to be an effective ombudsperson for both faculty and staff," said Provost Barbara Burch. "And Dr. Laves was both." Laves said he was surprised to be tapped for the position and said his main job is still assistant director for WKU's Counseling and Testing Center. "Because it's a new position on campus, it's being defined as we do it," Laves said. "I'm very excited and happy to take it on." In addition to his counseling duties, Laves is also a member of the faculty in the Psychology Department. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Laves takes over for William M. Greer, who served as interim Ombuds for one semester. (WKU Herald.) Related post: WKU to Create Ombuds Office.

US Cyclists Criticize Absence of Olympic Ombuds

Shortly before their event at the Beijing Olympics, four U.S. cyclists were reprimanded by a U.S. Olympic Committee member for wearing respiratory masks. Now, the cyclists are asking for an apology from the USOC. "Much of this problem boils down to not having the athlete's ombudsman in the village to mediate these sort of problems," said Andy Sparks, one of two coaches for the U.S. track cycling team. "The athletes had no support in their time of need, besides me. And that ended up being like trying to jump on and cover up a nuclear bomb!" (The Morning Call.)

Related post: Olympic Athlete Ombuds in the News.

September 03, 2008

Additional Details Emerge Regarding UGA Ombuds Program

A spokesperson for the University of Georgia said that financial considerations were a motivating factor in hiring current employees as the first Ombuds. "We gave serious consideration to creating new positions and the initial appointments are internal in part because of budget cuts," said the president's chief of staff, Meg Amstutz. She denied any concern about the potential for a perceived conflict of interest.

Steve Shi, director of the UGA Equal Opportunity Office, said conversations with Ombuds would be confidential, and communication between the administration and Ombuds would be limited. "There will be no 'back channel communication' between the ombudspersons and the administration," he said. However, open record laws allow the public to access notes taken by Ombuds, he said.

UGA's new Ombuds are expected to attend IOA training in Vancouver.

The program is slated for a two-year trial period. Among other considerations, UGA will evaluate whether outsiders should be hired as Ombuds.

The Red and Black editorial board endorsed the university's move, but expressed concerned about the Ombuds' ability to be truly independent.

(Athens Online; Red and Black Article, Editorial.)

Prior post: UGA's New Ombuds Program Fails in Several, Critical Aspects.

India Commission Recommends Ombuds for New Universities

As India works to establish 14 new universities, the National Knowledge Commission has issued several critical recommendations to ensure world class standards. Among other things, the panel has recommended that each university set up an internal Ombuds to address grievances of faculty, staff, student and public. (; NKC Overview.)

Job Posting: GE Mexico

GE International in Mexico City is hiring an Ombuds Manager. Applicants must have a university degree and at least five years experience in an international company. Previous experience in compliance and English/Spanish fluency are preferred. Salary and closing date not provided. (Bumeran Ejecutivos.)

Related post: Former GE Attorney: Employees Can be Fired for Failing to Bring Concerns to Ombuds.

September 02, 2008

UGA's New Ombuds Program Fails in Several, Critical Aspects

After several sexual harassment scandals rocked the University of Georgia, top administrators promised reforms, including an Ombuds Office for faculty, staff and students. Early reports seemed to indicate that the program would follow prevailing practices for organizational Ombuds: UGA President Michael Adams mentioned the need for neutrality and confidentiality; and the student newspaper endorsed IOA standards. UGA has now rolled out its program and introduced three new Ombuds. It is immediately apparent that the new Ombuds cannot assure confidentiality. The press release says that, the designated Ombuds "serve as independent, neutral and informal resources for UGA students, faculty and staff." As for confidentiality, the UGA website explains:
All communications related to an allegation, concern or other issue reported to Ombudspersons will be kept confidential to the extent legally permissible and consistent with maintaining the safety and public welfare of the campus. In cases where information reported to an Ombudsperson indicates that there may be a violation of the University's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, the Ombudsperson will be obligated to report that information to the NDAH Officer in keeping with that policy.

In addition to the issue of confidentiality, there is good reason to be suspicious of the UGA Ombuds' independence, neutrality and informality. All three continue to hold administrative posts at the university.
  • Ombuds for Students -- Shay Davis Little is director of administrative operations for University Housing and an adjunct faculty member.
  • Ombuds for Faculty -- Anne Proffitt Dupre is a tenured professor in the law school and co-director of a UGA consortium.
  • Ombuds for Staff -- Kathryn M. Chetney helps UGA’s Human Resources Office conduct workplace investigations and counsels employees regarding the university’s progressive discipline process, Family and Medical Leave Act, HR policies and procedures and Dispute Resolution Process.
The net effect is a program that does not reflect best practices for organizational Ombuds. Indeed, UGA's Ombuds Office does not resemble the typical model for Ombuds programs in American institutions of higher education. (UGA Press Release; UGA Ombuds Office Website; Red and Black.)

Prior posts: University of Georgia Petitions for Staff Ombuds; UGA Student Newspaper Endorses Ombuds Office Proposal; UGA Ombuds News Roundup; UGA Promises Three New Ombuds by October.

Update: University of Ottawa Planning for Ombuds Program

An informal committee of students and senior staff at the University of Ottawa is continuing its work on issues involving the rights and responsibilities of members of the campus community. Although the committee withdrew its recommendation for a code of conduct, its proposal for a university Ombuds program has gained traction. Bruce Feldthusen, the university's dean of Common Law and a member of the informal committee said there was no dispute on having an Ombudsperson for students and staff. "Since we just began, I don't want to say in any way what the outcome is going to be. My sense of it is we will see a more balanced appreciation of rights and responsibilities on all sides, (and) hopefully we will get there through good dialogue and mutual respect." (Ottawa Citizen.)

Prior post: University of Ottawa Considering Ombuds Program.