May 17, 2010

Washington University in St. Louis to Create Ombuds for Faculty

WU Provost Ed Macias has promised to create an Ombuds for faculty. The commitment comes in response to a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Women Faculty that was included in a report on diversity at the nonsectarian, private research university.

The Advisory Committee on Women Faculty recommended creating the position of ombudsperson "to provide confidential, independent, nonpolitical, and knowledgeable counsel and, where appropriate, advocacy for faculty members." The Provost reportedly has identified a faculty member for the role and will announce this position when it is finalized. In addition, the Provost has been making similar efforts to create a parallel position for the WU medical campus. The university continues to provide five faculty members as Ombuds for student issues. (WU Provost Spring 2010 Diversity Report; WU Ombudspersons.)

The creation of an Ombuds program for faculty issues will definitely supplement the on-going work of other WU Ombuds and bring the campus more in line with other research universities that have Ombuds programs for all constituents. It is commendable the the Advisory Committee on Women Faculty saw that an Ombuds would be a valuable resource for the faculty. It is also appropriate that the Ombuds would "provide confidential, independent, nonpolitical, and knowledgeable counsel." However, it is surprising that the new position would also be seen as providing "advocacy for faculty members." Whether the Committee intended to deviate from the prevailing standards of practice is uncertain, but if implemented as such, WU would be have a program that is fundamental different from most university Ombuds offices. The Ombuds' duty of neutrality would be immediately swallowed by the perception of advocacy. Th result would be an Ombuds that is seen by administrators as a solely an advocate for faculty issues, rather than as a trusted nonpolitical counsel.

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