January 26, 2009

University of Kentucky Debating Ombuds for Staff

The UK Ombuds Office has served faculty and staff since 1970. Staff have sought an expansion of the service since at least 2002, to no avail. At its October meeting, the Staff Senate debated whether an Ombuds could be truly “independent.” A general consensus emerged that independence is an unrealistic goal because the Ombuds would be paid by the University and therefore irreconcilably affiliated. The meeting minutes do not reveal whether the proposal will considered further. (UK SIC Meeting Minutes.)

Related posts: Critics Question Independence of BP Ombuds; Inspector General Recommends Realignment of TSA Ombuds Program; UGA Professors Question Independence of New Ombuds.

It is unfortunate to see UK's Staff Senate have concluded that a staff Ombuds could not be truly independent. These concerns are valid but easily addressed. If an Ombuds office is constituted with a charter, operates according to best practices, and hires ethical and qualified professionals, there should be no problem. This means, don't expect staff to have conflicting responsibilities, don't share physical space with other administrative offices, and don't hire insiders unless they are committed to a complete break from their former responsibilities. These steps and others can assure a viable Ombuds program. Indeed hundreds of other entities, including large universities, have made it work.

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