July 07, 2021

(Guest Post) Howard Gadlin Comments on the Proposed Bylaws

The following commentary was submitted by Howard Gadlin, IOA Distinguished Emeritus and former Ombuds at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, LA County Museum of Art, UCLA, and the National Institutes of Health. He has also served as Chair of the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen, Chair of the Federal Inter-agency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group Steering Committee, and Past President of the University and College Ombuds Association and of The Ombudsman Association.

My comments are directed specifically at Article IV - Board of Directors. It is unfortunate that the proposed revisions to the Bylaws can only be voted on as a package. However, my concerns about the negative consequences of Article IV are enough for me to urge that the proposed revisions in the bylaws be rejected.

Before commenting on the proposed By-law changes, I must place my comments in context.  I believe IOA is at an inflection point – it must decide whether it wants to be a professional organization or a club whose members share an interest in the organizational Ombuds role.

I believe IOA moved away from developing itself as a professional association when it removed all criteria for membership other than “agreeing to support and advance the mission of IOA and its Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.” However, at the time of this change IOA defined several criteria for serving on the board of directors. The April, 2021 Report for the International Ombudsman Association correctly notes that the criteria set in 2016 were “intended to ensure that any changes to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice would be determined by experienced and/or credentialed IOA members who are practicing Ombuds.”

The report asserts – erroneously, I believe, that these stringent criteria “…hampers IOA’s ability to be more inclusive and to provide equal opportunities for input and influence by all Members. This also impedes IOA’s ability to achieve a diversity of representation in Membership on the Board with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, industry, and nationality/internationality.” However, there is absolutely no data to support this second assertion. The report mentions that 72% of the IOA membership has six or less years of experience but there is no evidence that members of any of those categories are discriminated against. Nor is it the case that members of those categories were selectively discriminated against by the criteria for board membership. Their argument, then, comes down to an assertion that any criteria for board membership are discriminatory and therefore are a threat to our commitment to diversity.

While it is no doubt true that many newer members would like more opportunities “for input and influence,” that can be achieved without diluting the criteria for leadership positions. Ongoing committees could actively recruit participation from newer members, targeted mentoring programs could seek out people from groups that are under-represented in IOA’s membership or committees and activities. By definition, a professional association must have meaningful criteria for membership. So long as those criteria are not intentional, or even inadvertent means by which specific populations of people are excluded on the basis of demographic/identity factors, the criteria are what makes the association professional. Take one example – the 2016 criteria that board members should be actively practicing Ombuds and that they have a certain number of years of “confirmed organizational Ombuds experience.” The report recommends eliminating those criteria and substituting “more objective and less onerous criteria that help identify potential Board members who have core competencies that would benefit the Board.” But if being a member requires nothing more than supporting the values and mission of IOA this would open the door for a director of human resources who joins IOA or an organizational counsel who joins IOA to serve on the board or someone who was fired from their Ombuds position to serve on the board. IOA would be opening a Pandora’s box in making such a move.

In the introduction to the report there is mention of people who were unable to practice in full adherence with the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice due to circumstances beyond their control then having had a lesser place within IOA. Elsewhere in Resolution no. 2 it is stated that “the Corporation shall serve practicing international Ombuds and others using Ombuds skills in their work.” However, there is a significant difference between fully defined Ombuds who observes the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics and the deployment of Ombuds skills. In any organization at any level of status and responsibility one will find people who have skills identical to those of Ombuds. Possessing all those skills does not make one an Ombuds. Using those skills within a formally defined Ombuds role does. Using those skills as a Dean of Students does not.  If we are to be a professional organization, we need to define and protect the role. If someone is unable to practice to standards IOA should work with that person to help them persuade their organization to restructure their Ombuds program so it conforms to our standards and ethics. If someone is not able to meet the standards of the Bar Association, would you hire them to protect your legal rights? If a law firm hired people who had not passed the bar in their state would you use that law firm? One of the defining characteristics of a profession is that it structures its practices and policies around the needs and interests of those who seek the assistance of its practitioners.

If we aim to be an organization of Ombuds professionals, we need to begin to act like one.

No comments:

Post a Comment