December 18, 2013

UPenn Ombuds Publishes 2013 Annual Report

In her annual report, the Ombudsman at the University of Pennsylvania, Thadious M. Davis said that her office handled 153 cases in the 2012-13 academic year.  She also recapped a survey of ten Ombuds offices at peer institutions.  This lead to updated outreach materials, including a new information brochure.

Davis also highlighted "a recurrent concern expressed by visitors from every sector of the University"--the fear of retaliation.
Three previous reports from the Office of the Ombudsman have called attention to the issue....  Despite reassurances that the University has in place a policy against retaliatory measures and threats, as well as that the Office of the Ombudsman maintains confidentiality, visitors worry that either sharing a concern or seeking advice could result in measures being taken against them. Perhaps surprisingly, staff, students and faculty seem equally vulnerable when voicing fears that supervisors, chairs or directors might retaliate against them. Untenured and non-standing faculty members are also reluctant to make queries about procedural issues, whether for tenure, promotion, sabbatical or leave policies. Both staff and faculty members have pointed out that the location of guidelines for procedures are not easily accessible or are difficult to interpret without assistance, but that asking questions might create problems or generate negative impressions of them. Better and clearer access to procedural handbooks and guidelines in departments, programs and schools would alleviate part of the problem, but the larger issue of fear of retaliation requires a sustained effort to educate all members of the University community about how to create lines of communication and how to maintain an environment of trust, respect and cooperation. Going forward, the Office of the Ombudsman anticipates renewing its work toward these ends particularly because of the increase in abrasive, abusive or inappropriate treatment of subordinates in the workplace environment.
The report also reiterated that the UPenn Office of the Ombudsman follows the IOA standards of practice.   Marcia Martinez-Helfman, JD, MSW, is the full-time Associate Ombudsman.  (UPenn Almanac.)

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