October 21, 2008

University Attorney Recommends Settlements - Blames Ombuds for Upholding Standards

In a stunning public disclosure, an attorney for Florida Gulf Coast University claimed the University Ombuds was evasive and did not properly investigate or report complaint, forcing the university to settle two discrimination suits.

FGCU recently settled two federal lawsuits after its attorney, Aaron Behar of Miami, warned that key witnesses weren’t credible and a jury would see through holes in the defense. According to transcripts released by the university, the attorney said he had a particular problem with FGCU Ombuds Charles McKinney. Behar told FGCU trustees that McKinney “received complaints and never really followed up,” and “wouldn’t write things down.” Behar reported that the Ombuds refused to produce records or information for the investigation. According to Behar, McKinney said, “He does not like to take notes because he does not want to have a paper trail, which in and of itself is concerning.”

McKinney told a local newspaper that he was appalled when he read Behar’s depiction of him in the transcripts. “I thought the record did not portray reality,” McKinney said of Behar’s statements. “I feel very badly about the transcript and how this might affect my reputation.” McKinney said he has not been asked to resign or retire and plans to stay with the university. He said he hasn’t had a chance to talk to FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw about the accusations. (Ft. Myers News-Press; Naples Daily News.)

* Of course there may be more to this story, but the first impression is that FGCU's attorney utterly failed to understand the role of the University Ombuds. It is as if he had not read the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, or the ABA Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombuds Offices. These materials provide the foundation for determining whether an Ombuds falls below the standard of care and should have been reviewed by a litigator representing the university. All are readily available to anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to Google "Ombuds." Indeed, the ethical tenets are clearly enunciated on the FCGU Ombuds website.

In this case, McKinney kept complaints confidential; didn't create records; and declined to participate in a formal process. Check, check and check: all within professional standards. It is appalling that Behar laid any blame on McKinney and equally disappointing that the University President has remained silent on the issue.


  1. This strikes me as an opportunity for the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) to send a letter to the Univesity President so as to clarify the role of the Ombuds and even (and this may be a bit too much because we don't know all the facts) even commend McKinney for practicing to standards. At the very least we need to, as an organization, reiterate our Standards.

  2. A cautionary tale about counsels' understanding of the ombuds role for sure but perhaps also about conflicting roles in the ombuds office. It appears Mr. McKinney's title is Director of Educational Services, Equal Opportunity Programs, and University Ombudsman (according to the meet the ombudsman link). It's harmful that Behar characterizes his complaints in the context of McKinny's role as Ombudsman and perhaps that's his major role. But if he is also Director of Equal Opportunity Programs....