May 16, 2019

Reforms May Lead to New Ombuds Offices at Rutgers University

A committee on sexual harassment prevention and culture change recommends sweeping policy changes at the public research university in New Jersey. Most notably (and already adopted by university administrators), is a policy prohibiting faculty from dating undergraduates. In addition, the committee's report recommends "an ombuds for faculty and staff in every chancellor unit who reports directly to the chancellor." Currently, Rutgers has only Ombuds programs for students and house staff (hospital residents). The report recommends that Ombuds policies be developed, but concludes that the new Ombuds would be mandatory reporters. 

Here's the full text of the recommendation:

Recommendation 4:
Establish an Ombudsperson for faculty/staff on each of the campuses. The ombudsperson should report directly to the relevant Chancellor.[fn]
Rutgers has an ombudsperson for students, but not for faculty and staff. When an issue arises that requires an outside safe (objective) perspective and guidance, people are unclear about where to turn. While UHR has a Faculty/Staff Assistance Program, it is an office of one individual that services the entire university faculty and staff population. This individual provides counseling services, but is not well-positioned, nor has the authority, to take action on matters of harassment, and is not easily accessible to faculty/staff who are not on the New Brunswick campus.
Implementation Idea: Establish an ombudsperson for faculty/staff on each of the four campus locations that reports into the Chancellor and is given authority to give direction and take appropriate action as needed. These individuals will be able to have informal conversations with faculty/staff who are looking for a safe haven to discuss their situations, while serving as knowledgeable people who may be outside of the normal chain of supervision. It is clear that depending on what the ombudspeople hear, they may be mandatory reporters. However, they will be critical resources for those faculty/staff who find themselves in “grey” areas of harassment. It is important to note that the former RU Ombudsperson listened to faculty/staff complaints, but they were not empowered by the institution to do anything beyond that. Thus, the position should report directly to the Chancellors in order to ensure appropriate perception of power and influence. The ombudsperson will require training in order to learn how to manage various situations, once their roles and responsibilities are defined by senior leadership. The role of the ombudsperson should include the responsibility of the ombudsperson to bring forth evidence or patterns of behavior that are brought to their attention by multiple individuals.
[Footnote: The ombudsperson for New Brunswick can report to the NB Chancellor and to the President’s designee in the Office of the President for issues in those particular units. If the caseload becomes too unwieldy for one person, two people may be identified in order to address the cases within the Chancellor unit and the Office of the President.]
Sybil James is the Ombudsperson for Students and there is a committee of more than a dozen faculty who volunteer as Ombuds for house staff. (; Rutgers Student Ombuds, House Staff Ombuds; Committee Report.)

Related posts: Harvard Law Case Study Focuses on Ombuds and the 'Dear Colleague Letter'IOA Takes a Stand on Title IX Issues; Watch Senator Question White House Title IX Expert on Role of Campus Ombuds; IOA Releases Memo Providing Legal Grounds for Ombuds Confidentiality in Title IX Matters; IOA Compiles Title IX Resources; IOA Surveys Higher Education Ombuds Confidentiality for Clery Act & Title IX Matters; U.S. Department of Education Suggests Mediation an Option for Title IX Complaints; IOA Posts First Press ReleaseInternational Ombudsman Association Comments on Proposed Title IX Changes.

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