December 29, 2008

Mediterranean Network of Mediators and Ombudsmen Holds Second Annual Conference

On December 18 and 19, 2008, the organization held its second gathering on the theme, “Mediators of the Mediterranean area – Challenges of a Common Space.” The meeting in Marseille, France, was convened by the French Médiateur de la République, the Mediator of the Kingdom of Morocco and the Defensor del Pueblo of Spain. Participants approved by-laws, agreed to establish a liaison to the United Nations, and endorsed the principle that mediators and Ombuds should enjoy full independence from governments. (The Malta Independent; Business News.)

Related post: Pacific Ombudsman Alliance Launches.

December 28, 2008

FCO Names New Administrator

André Marin, President of the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman and Ontario Ombudsman, has announced that Steve Olive has been retrained as the Administrator for the FCO Secretariat, for a three-year term, effective December 1, 2008. Olive has worked for the FCO for several years providing administrative support, especially with the Education Committee and the web site rejuvenation committee. (FCO Announcement.)

UN Struggles to Revise Justice System

The Wall Street Journal reports that, "An American-backed drive to curb misconduct at the United Nations is faltering, blighted by bureaucracy and accusations of retaliation against whistle-blowers." The U.N. promised to replace its existing "outmoded, dysfunctional and ineffective" internal justice system, with a new system staffed by professional judges in January, but no judges have been appointed yet. The U.N. blames this in part on member states, which delayed approving rules that would govern the new arrangement. The article cites U.N. Ombuds Office as one part of the system that handles allegations of misconduct. (WSJ.) According to a U.N. press release, the new justice system is set to become operational July 1, 2009. (7th Space.)

Related post: UN Ombuds Reports on Activies Amid Concerns Over Progress on Reformed Justice System.

December 23, 2008

2009 Conference Agenda Announced

The Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons, The Forum of Canadian Ombudsman, and The International Ombudsman Association have released the tentative agenda for their joint conference in April 2009. The agenda includes many sessions focused on issues of interest to all Ombuds.

Keynote addresses will be given by:
  • Gilles Paquet, Professor Emeritus, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario
  • Richard William Duncan Pound, OC, OQ Partner of the law firm Stikeman Elliott, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) based in Montreal and former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • Rémy M. Beauregard, President of Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development), Montreal, PQ, Canada
(Joint Conference Agenda-at-a-Glance.)

Related post: Three Ombuds Organizations to Hold Joint Conference in April 2009.

Thoughts on Impartiality

London-based mediator and former school teacher Alan Sharland explains why impartiality underpins all effective conflict resolution.
Impartiality is one of the more commonly recognised aspects of the role of the Mediator. This does not mean that the Mediator should somehow become inhuman and not have a feeling of bias towards one party or another, but that they practice in a way that minimises any manifestation of this bias. This is an important distinction to make. No-one can genuinely claim to be impartial, but they can continually review their own feelings and thoughts about someone or a situation in order to acknowledge this and then monitor, and adjust where necessary, their practice as a mediator in the light of this awareness.

His words are just as applicable to Ombuds. (

Professors Urge Adoption of Negotiation Skills for LSAT

Law school professors and administrators continue to debate the utility of the Law School Admission Test. Professor Andrea Schneider at the Marquette Law School observes that the LSAT does not test for creativity, negotiation, and problem-solving skills that are needed successful practice. Jeffrey Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, said, “But we also need lawyers with the kind of skill sets that the world needs — like empathy, persuasiveness and the willingness to have the courage to do the right thing — which the LSAT does not measure.” Schneider hopes that someday these skills can be tested and incorporated in law school admissions and education. (ADR Prof Blog.)

Related posts: Why Take ADR Courses in Law School?; Links to Law School ADR Programs.

December 18, 2008

Registration Opens for 2009 IOA Conference

The International Ombudsman Association is now accepting mail and fax registrations for the joint conference, "Evolution of the Ombudsman [1809-2009]: A Rich History, A Promising Future," in Montreal next April. Early registration ends March 27, 2009. Payment will be accepted in US or Canadian dollars. (IOA 2009 Conference.)

Prior post:
Three Ombuds Organizations to Hold Joint Conference in April 2009.

RBC Ombuds Issues Annual Report

The RBC Ombudsman handled 2,113 matters during the fiscal year ended October 31, 2008. The program is remarkable for its significant use of the internet. The office recorded more than 94,000 web sessions and received 47% of initial contacts by email. (RBC Ombuds 2008 Report.)

Related posts: RBC Ombuds Office Implements New Case Management Software; RBC to Supplement Ombuds Program With Independent ADR Provider.

Job Posting: University of Texas Medical Branch

UMTB continues its efforts to recruit a part-time faculty Ombuds for its Galveston campus. Applicants must have a Masters degree and have held a faculty appointment in a university outside of UTMB. No salary or closing date indicated. (UMTB Jobs, job id. no. 12835, via HotJobs.)

Prior: Job Post.

December 17, 2008

Advice to Mediators from an External Ombuds

Chuck Doran has been a mediator and conflict resolution trainer for over 16 years, and finds great fulfillment and purpose in his work. In addition, he has served as a Classical Ombudsman as chair of the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution and as an external Organizational Ombuds for a private company in Boston with 800 employees. He writes about his experiences and provides a cogent overview in the NE-ACR winter newsletter. Doran notes suggests that “Mediators looking to make a living in this field may be interested to know that today there are more, and usually more long-lasting, job opportunities for ombudsmen than for mediators.” (NE-ACR News.)

Note: The NE-ACR newsletter is usually available only to members and I gratefully acknowledge this exception to share Doran's article.

December 15, 2008

What the Heck is the U.S. Office of the Independent Ombudsman?

This month saw the debut of a curious website for the U.S. Office of the Independent Ombudsman. According to the site, "The OIO comprises of a trusted team of advocates and business advisors providing the highest degree of professional service in resolving complaints, disputes and procedural issues." It offers the following services: Hotline; Research & Investigations; Alternative Dispute Resolution; Mediations; Compliance Issues; and Advocacy. It claims to be a member of USOA, TOA, and IOA. In addition it claims as members many state and local government agencies (including the Texas Youth Commission, Austin ISD, and the University of Texas at Austin), federal government agencies (including the VA, TSA, DOD, and EPA), and corporate entities (PBS/NPR, BP America, IBM, Microsoft, and Neiman Marcus). (USOIO Home.) None of these memberships or members could be confirmed. Moreover, the telephone number provided is not in service.

Other evidence casts doubt on the legitimacy of OIO. Its logo is the coat of arms for Poland. Although located in Texas, the entity is not registered with the Texas Secretary of State. OIO's website says that it is "a division of Mansour Mubaarak & Hogue LLP," a Houston research, management consulting and advocacy firm. Mansour Mubaarak has the same phone number and is the registered owner of the OIO web domain. In addition, Mansour Mubaarak is "an affiliate of Da Vinci & Lombardi SA," a merchant banking and consulting firm with offices in Paris, New York and Houston. (Mansour Mubaarak & Hogue; Da Vinci & Lombardi; Whois Results; Wikipedia - Poland Coat of Arms.)

So, what the heck is the U.S. Office of the Independent Ombudsman? The best explanation may be that it's just a front company. But why? (See Wikipedia - Front Organization; Boing Boing - Donna Blue Aircraft.)

SUNY Purchase Opens Ombuds Office

The public liberal, visual, and performing arts college has opened an Ombuds Office to assist students. Paul Nicholson serves as the University Ombudsperson. Nicholson has a Masters degree in counseling and has been assisting students at Purchase College since 1991, most recently as director of the Educational Opportunity Program. (SUNY Purchase Ombuds.)

Ombuds as Role Models for Bloggers

Blogger and former Simon Frazer University student Ombuds, Maria Lavais suggests that the blogosphere has something to learn from the Ombuds profession. Most significantly, she thinks that bloggers need standards and protections. Drawing on her own experience, the TOA Code and Standards, and the MIT Ombuds website, Lavais proposes a "Blogger/Ombudsman Model." (Maria Write Now.)

Survey Finds Students Do Not Trust Australian University Ombuds

A study funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council interviewed more than 1500 students and more than 500 staff across a dozen universities found that campus Ombuds programs were not trusted. (In Australia, university Ombuds are classical in nature and serve as independent, impartial and confidential complaint offices.) The findings indicated a number of problems:
  • Complainants felt that their problems were not adequately pursued;
  • Ombuds website design and content were lacking; and
  • Ombuds staff were insufficiently trained.
A key question for the pioneering project, is whether to urge a local variant of Britain's independent national office for student complaints. (The Australian Supplement on Higher Education.)

Although this study looked only at classical Ombuds, it serves as a reminder about the issues that are important to visitors. Organizational Ombuds should pay heed.

Related posts: British Panel Recommends Higher Education Ombuds Programs; Persistent Complaints to Ombuds Offices.

December 12, 2008

Update: University of West Georgia Debuts Ombuds Website and Charter

Less than a year after an Ombuds program was proposed, UWG has hired two Ombuds, signed a charter agreement, and rolled out a website. The home page for UWG's Ombuds Office features links to the IOA Code and Standards, brochure, supplemental information, and terms of reference. The four-page chartering document is endorsed by the University President and Faculty Senate. (UWG Ombuds.)

Prior post: University of West Georgia Introduces First-Ever Ombuds for Faculty and Staff.

Central Michigan Ombuds Offers Online Interface

Jon Humiston the new Ombuds for Central Michigan University has developed an internet portal that allows students to submit information and request an appointment. Humiston explains that the interface is similar to one offered by Michigan State on its intranet. The page may be revised further and has not yet been publicized to students. (CMU Ombuds Report a Concern.)

This is one of but a handful of Ombuds programs that have any interactive online capabilities. Yet as communications continue migrating to the electronic domain, Ombuds will be obligated to follow. Humiston is helping pave the way.

Related posts: Army's Ombuds Program for Soldiers Goes Online; Online Bullying an Emerging Issue for Ombuds.

Ombuds Santa

Fred Jenoure, Ombuds for Hartford University, served as Santa Clause for 100 preschoolers from local nursery schools this week. According to press reports, children crowded around Santa, high fiving and hugging him. Each child was able to take a professional picture with Santa to bring home, courtesy of Hartford's President. (UNotes Daily.)

Berkeley Faculty Ombuds Passes

Jeffery Allan Winer, Ph.D., the faculty Ombuds at the University of California Berkeley, died Tuesday, December 9, after a brief battle with cancer. Winer was a neurobiologist and professor of molecular and cell biology who mapped the network of nerves that allow the brain to represent and interpret sound. (UCBerkely News.)

December 10, 2008

Former Professor Recounts Troubling Encounter with Ombuds

In yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education, a former professor from a "metropolitan university in the South" tells how he was accused of sexual harassment nearly a decade ago. The anonymous author in fact was innocent of the charges–-someone with a remarkably similar email address had sent several messages to his student demanding sex for a higher grade. Although he quickly denied that the emails were his, he was summoned to a meeting with the "university ombudswoman," who confronted him with the evidence and presented an agreement for him to seek psychological help for his behavior. Upon providing a list of dozens of existing email addresses on Hotmail that were similar to his, the suggestion of fault evaporated.

Although the focus of the article was on the false accusation and presumption of guilt, the professor was clearly troubled by how the case was handled by the Ombuds.
The meeting adjourned. The dean, never one for gracious damage control, disappeared. The ombudswoman made some pleasant conversation as I put on my jacket and collected my things. But no one in the room apologized. No one there expressed concern regarding the impact the event might have had on me or my reputation. Their immediate presumption of my guilt was apparently not to be regretted by anyone but me.

The professor concludes his tale with a warning: "Until we devise more-sophisticated approaches for handling this complex problem on campuses, we will continue to see potentially clumsy responses that further complicate an already painful problem." (

This article is no doubt raising the blood pressure of many university Ombuds. The behavior of the unidentified Ombuds clearly violated the prevailing ethical standards of the University and College Ombuds Association and its successor professional organization, the International Ombudsman Association. Under these standards, Ombuds are barred from making administrative decisions for administrators, determining "guilt" or "innocence" of those accused of wrong-doing, or assigning sanctions to individuals. Ombuds have a duty to be neutral, independent, informal and, most especially, confidential.

Of course, the story may not be accurate, but there is no opportunity for the Ombuds to tell her side. The unfortunate effect is that readers will reach a mistaken conclusion about the role of the Ombuds and may avoid working with the rare safe resource for those wrongly accused.

Related post: University of Iowa Endorses Ombuds Office After Faculty Suicide.

What Not to Say in an Email

Tech executive Roger Matus offers a top ten list of things you should never put in an email. One significant reason is that these will likely raise red flags for e-discovery sleuths.
  • Delete this email immediately.
  • I really shouldn't put this in writing.
  • We're going to do this differently than normal.
  • I don't want to discuss this in e-mail. Please give me a call.
  • Don't ask. You don't want to know.
Matus says, "If you find yourself typing one of these phrases, perhaps you should delete the entire e-mail." (Death by Email via ABA Journal.) Good advice for Ombuds and their visitors.

Related posts: Don't Send That Angry Email; Using Email in Dispute Resolution; Wharton Study on Managing Workplace Emotions.

December 09, 2008

Ombuds Offer Insights on Dispute Systems Design

The Harvard Negotiation Law Review has published articles by participants at the Dispute Systems Design Symposium earlier this year at Harvard Law School. Three are by Ombuds.
  • Mary Rowe, the MIT Ombuds, provides an illustrative case for her article, “Systems for Dealing with Conflict and Learning from Conflict—Options for Complaint-Handling.” Rowe also contributed a second article, “An Organizational Ombuds Office In a System for Dealing with Conflict and Learning from Conflict, or ‘Conflict Management System’.”
  • David Miller, the World Health Organization Ombuds, discusses, “Managing Cultural Differences In An International Organization Conflict Management System.”
  • Brian Bloch, the Ombuds for ISKCONResolve, writes about, “Creating a Faith-Based Conflict Management System.”
Rowe and Bloch also provide a valuable tool for analyzing your organization's conflict management system. (Harvard Negotiation Law Review Online; Dispute Systems Design Symposium 2008 Discussion Forum; Analyzing your Conflict Management System Chart.)

Related posts: UN General Assembly Approves Reform of Dispute System; Carole Houk Awarded 5-Year Contract With Dept. of Interior.

December 07, 2008

Mount Holyoke Ombuds Interviewed

Mount Holyoke College's Ombuds, Carol Stewart, was interviewed by the campus newspaper. She has served as the college's Ombuds since July 2007. The location of her office will certainly sound familiar to many Ombuds.
In the Wilder basement, if you follow the gray signs with mysterious black arrows through the darkened bends and winding corners, they will lead you to the office of the Ombudsperson, Carol Stewart.

Once inside, though, people probably don't want to leave.
Stewart's office doesn't feel like an office at all. It feels as if someone picked up a cozy loft apartment and placed it in the dark recesses of the Wilder basement. Soft lamplight glows across couches and ottomans with intricate, speckled, red, orange and green patterns. Hung on the salmon-colored walls are Stewart's collection of green clocks made from plates, adding a touch of Martha Stewart to the atmosphere. * * * Immediately you feel at home in her office. And it's not just the couch, the salmon walls or the toys that make you feel this way-its Carol's soothing voice and happy demeanor.

Stewart has an eight year old son and is completing a Master's degree in Public Policy and Administration at University of Massachusetts. (Mount Holyoke News.)

Related post: New Ombuds at Mt. Holyoke.

December 05, 2008

World Bank Calls for Climate Change Ombuds

At a United Nations climate change conference in Poland this week, participants discussed reforming the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a feature of the Kyoto Protocol which requires countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The World Bank, which was instrumental in starting the CDM, has called for the creation of an Ombuds program that could play a role in building trust and confidence in the CDM. Details of the World Bank's proposal were not available. (Carbon-Finance Online.)

Whether or not the proposal is for an Organizational or Classical Ombuds program is unknown. (The World Bank and UN both have Organizational Ombuds.) Regardless, it is encouraging to see plans for ADR programs being considered as a new and critical industry begins to take shape.

December 03, 2008

University of British Columbia Names First Ombuds for Students

The University of British Columbia has appointed Shirley Nakata as its first Ombuds for Students. Nakata received her BA and LL.B from UBC. She became an attorney in 1989, and has worked a litigator for a law firm and as a human rights investigator with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Most recently, Nakata has been Director of the Professional Conduct Department at the B.C. College of Teachers. Nakata has been a board member of the B.C. Council of Administrative Tribunals, and is a member of the Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law in Education and the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. She is a member and has been a board member of the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund. Nakata will begin her duties in January 2009. (UBC Media Release; Vancouver Sun.)

UC Riverside Ombuds Profiled

Indu Sen, the Ombuds at the University of California, Riverside, is profiled in the Pepperdine Law School alumni magazine, The Docket. Sen reveals that her career in dispute resolution was inspired partly by her experiences reconciling differences between her Hindu Indian family and her husband's, who is a Pakistani Muslim. In addition to her Ombuds work, Sen has been working toward the launch of an online mediation company called FairShake in 2009. (Pepperdine Docket.)

Related post: Profile of UC Riverside Ombuds Gets Some Facts Right, Some Wrong.