January 03, 2013

American University in Kosovo Opts for Whistleblower-like ‘Ombuds’

On November 24, 2012, the Board of Trustees of the university in Pristina established its first Ombudsperson’s Office and appointed two trustees Gjulieta Mushkollaj and Rezart Spahia to jointly act as Ombudspersons. Rather than adopting an Organizational Ombuds, as have other American international universities, AUK created something more akin to a whistleblower.

In fact, the AUK Ombuds website states, “Any report that you make with the Ombudspersons affords you the protection of the Whistleblower policy.” The AUK Ombuds will protect the confidentiality of complainants, but makes no mention of other typical Ombuds standards such as independence, neutrality or informality. The decision was also surprising because AUK is affiliated with the Rochester Institute of Technology, which has a well established Organizational Ombuds program. (AUK Ombuds.)

Related posts: RIT Ombuds Explains Role in Quelling Conflicts; Podcast Interview With RIT Ombuds; American University of Kuwait Unveils Ombuds Program; American University in Cairo Moves to Organizational Ombuds Model.


  1. If the AUK "Ombuds" doesn't adopt the basic, internationally-recognized professional standards that define an ombuds, then don't call it an ombuds.

    The United States Congress (and those who lobbied for the law, particularly this element) should heed the same advice: Don't memorialize a "whistleblower ombudsman" into law without first consulting with one authoritative body of professional Ombuds. Call it something else.

    There is no way these new whistleblower ombuds will be implemented in any standardized way that reflects professional ombudsman standards. If they try, they will soon realize there is no way to embed an ombudsman within a U.S. Inspector General's office that has any hope of "protecting" whistleblowers. Think about it. If someone wants to blow the whistle, they'll go to the hotline. If they're hesitant about blowing the whistle, they're not going to another IG employee who calls him or herself an ombudsman to learn about the realities that might follow for blowing the whistle. And once an employee blows the whistle and experiences reprisal for it, why would they go to an IG whistleblower ombudsman who has no power or authority to do anything about it? The reprisal complaint would likely just go back to the investigations team.

    What do they expect a whistleblower ombudsman to do? I recently saw an agency advertise an IG whistleblower ombudsman job at a GS-11 level. Really?! The only proper placement of an ombudsman is in a direct reporting relationship to the agency head. If IG offices must employ this role, it must report to the IG to comply with standards. Frankly, however, the role should be outside of the IG altogether. But again, agencies have no choice thanks to the complete misunderstanding by those who penned this portion of the law. There is no way for a real ombudsman to serve in this role without being faced with severe ethical dilemmas and challenges to standards of independence, neutrality, informality, and confidentiality.

    Everyone should benchmark California academic institutions who actually reference International Ombudsman Association standards of practice and require ombudsman certification in their job announcements. It is so disappointing to see lawmakers, corporations, and government agencies continue to misdefine the ombudsman role. This is leading to worldwide confusion about the profession as a whole.

    Organizations who are mature enough to embrace a full scope ombudsman will be the ones who will succeed. They will be able to quickly identify serious, systemic issues, be able to proactively address the root problem, win the trust of their employees and constituents, and truly reinforce a culture of ethical governance. Anything less than full compliance with IOA standards is an embarassment.

    Good luck to those organizations in their recruitment efforts to find someone willing to serve in a role that ignores all standards in both structure and function. And good luck convincing anyone to use the role. Just call it a "whistleblowing training officer" and save everyone from wasted time and effort pursuing something it isn't.