The ombuds' attitude is: "I will help you think this through."
Ombuds offer a safe and confidential opportunity for faculty to seek guidance regarding workplace concerns and conflicts at any time, without fear of reprisal, and at no cost to themselves. Ombuds may receive faculty complaints, concerns, and questions about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and broader problems. In response, ombuds strive to facilitate fair, equitable, and expeditious resolutions.
In the course of their work, the ombuds listen with open minds, demonstrate respect for diverse perspectives and experiences, observe, make informal inquiries, request relevant documentation, review matters, offer options for resolution, make referrals, and facilitate conversations among disputing parties independently and impartially. In addition, the ombuds serve as resources to faculty for information and make recommendations for constructive change when university policies or procedures generate conflicts or concerns.
Visits are voluntary
From the moment you first reach out to an ombud, you remain in control of the process. There are no forced solutions, just options and advice.
Conversations are off the record
Faculty interactions with the ombuds are completely confidential. No records are maintained in ways that identify you. Your name will not be revealed unless you give permission.
Ombuds are available to all parties in a conflict
Ombuds are here to support you as you explore your concerns. However, impartiality means that ombuds do not serve as advocates for the people who use ombuds services. At the same time, ombuds do not represent the university or those who administrate the university. Ombuds help find constructive resolutions without judging who is right or wrong.
Ombuds are an informal resource
Ombud services are not a part of any formal university resolution or judicial process, and working with an ombud is not a substitute for the formal conflict resolution system. Ombuds don't make or enforce policy.
Ombud services are independent of other campus offices and are not part of executive management
Sharing a concern with an ombud does not go up the 'chain of command' nor does it put the university on notice.
Services Not Provided
Although there are many services the ombuds provide to faculty, there are some things they cannot do, including:
- Advocate for any individual's particular position
- Take sides in a dispute
- Exceed the role of conciliator
- Take action without your consent
- Tell you what to do
- Keep official files or records through which individuals can be identified
- Violate university policy as part of a solution to your problem
- Make binding decisions or mandate policies
- Overturn decisions by university officials
- Participate in formal investigations or play any role in a formal issue resolution process such as a hearing or grievance procedure
- Provide legal advice
- Receive notice for the university
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we use the terms ombud or ombuds?
The original word "ombudsman" has Scandinavian origins and was first used as a public office in Sweden. According to Doyle and O'Brien (2020), the term refers to "a person who has an ear to the people." In United States colleges and universities, this person is often referred to as an "agent for justice" within the complex institutional systems of higher education.
What authority do the faculty ombuds have?
The faculty ombuds have no formal authority. However, they can carry out informal, early stage mediation and informally negotiate settlements in disputes. Some benefits of this informal facilitation include:
- Parties choosing their own solution to a problem
- Parties seeking common interests rather than bringing or defending against a charge of wrongdoing or policy violation
- Parties having the flexibility to reach creative solutions that a more formal proceeding may not allow
Ombuds may also identify systemic conflict, bringing to the administration's attention those practices, policies and aspects of university culture that appear to exacerbate tensions or create problems for faculty.
Who has access to faculty ombud services?
All faculty employed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have access to ombud services. This includes faculty who are tenure-track, tenured, research, professors of practice, extension, lecturers, lecturer-Ts, postdocs and senior research associates. It does not include graduate teaching assistants or research assistants.
Do I have to use faculty ombud services or interact with an ombud?
No. Using the services of the faculty ombuds is voluntary.
How should I communicate with the faculty ombuds?
Appointments can be arranged by phone or email. Do not include confidential information in any messages.
Can I simply write out my complaint and have an ombud act on it without giving my name?
No. Without the opportunity to discuss the situation or concern with the faculty member, understand essential details of the concern, and the potential outcomes the faculty member seeks, the ombud cannot respond with suggestions, options, or strategies for potential action or resolution. The ethical principle of confidentiality for the ombud and each visitor protects identity.
What qualities must individuals demonstrate to become an ombud?
- Membership in the International Ombuds Association with continuous training in this practice
- Knowledge of university policies and procedures
- Extensive cross-campus experience
- Strong communication skills
- Ability to be objective and impartial
What should I expect of the ombuds?
You should expect the ombuds to:
- Remain neutral
- Lay out options for resolving disputes
- Suggest efficient ways to communicate
- Assist you in being aware of policies and better understanding them
Will the Ombuds contact parties who are relevant to my concern?
Only with your permission and only when doing so will help you resolve the concern.
What should I NOT expect when interacting with the ombuds?
You should not expect the ombuds to:
- Serve as an advocate for you or any individual
- Tell you what you must do
- File formal complaints
- Initiate formal enquiries
- Give legal advice
What might a sample interaction with an ombud look like?
In a typical case, a faculty member contacts an ombud and explains the problem from his or her own perspective. Sometimes the ombud simply counsels the faculty member, helping him or her to better understand the situation and to develop a strategy for dealing with it independently (i.e., without direct involvement of the ombud).
If counseling alone is not sufficient, the faculty member may authorize the ombud to contact the other party or parties involved in order to get their perspectives on the matter and to see what possibilities there may be for a mutually acceptable resolution. In this way, the ombud may practice 'shuttle diplomacy' to encourage them to consider various options. This can also be described as 'negotiation.'
When appropriate, and with the agreement of all parties, the ombud may set up an in-person facilitation, in which the parties come together face-to-face and propose specific ways to deal with the problems that have been identified. The ombud facilitates this process and takes note of areas of agreement. Ideally, the parties work out a mutually agreeable solution at this phase of the process.
If the parties cannot reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, then the dissatisfied party or parties may file a formal grievance according to university policy. If this happens, the ombud is no longer involved and the case moves forward through formal channels.
What are the most common complaints brought to ombuds for their assistance?
Upon review of the Ombud Annual Reports of several universities similar in size and scope to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the faculty ombuds found the following complaints are the most commonly named, with interpersonal relations at the top for all institutions. The other categories are frequently identified, but not always in the same order.
- Interpersonal relations with colleagues, university staff, administrators
- Conflicts with colleagues, chair, associate dean, dean
- Salaries (including specific salary levels and equity issues)
- Tenure and promotion timing and procedures (not qualifications) and post-tenure review
- Career development issues
- Scholarly misconduct questions and consultation
Can I work with both ombuds, rather than just one, or switch from seeing one ombud to seeing the other?
Generally, a faculty member works with one of the ombuds to support confidentiality and to keep the problem solving process moving forward smoothly. Exceptions can be made in individual cases. If a faculty member has worked with one ombud and wishes to meet with the other, it is expected that the faculty member will discuss this with the ombud with whom they are currently working. At times, the ombuds may work together or in sequence as a means to maintain momentum or to access skills that one ombud believes the other ombud has. In these cases, the faculty member will be consulted prior to such interactions taking place.
Is there a charge for ombud services?
Can anyone retaliate against me for going to see an ombud?
How can the ombuds be neutral when they are university employees?
The ombuds are independent of all other offices on campus when they are serving in their role as ombud. Although the ombuds are university employees who ultimately report to the Chancellor, their position description allows them to remain free from university interference when working to resolve your concern. They do not report information gained from individual faculty members to the Chancellor or any other administrator or faculty group, though they do discuss trends they observe on campus while being careful to protect confidentiality. The ombuds are neutral and do not represent your interests or the university's interests; their job is to help everyone involved find a fair resolution.
How does an ombud differ from an employee relations or human resources professional?
Employee Relations and Human Resources professionals assist managers and employees of the organization in establishing, following and applying Human Resources-related policies and procedures. They may conduct formal investigations, recommend modifying policies, accept formal notice of a claim on behalf of the organization, strategize regarding organizational options for engaging workplace problems, and ensure institutional compliance with legal requirements affecting employment. ER/HR professionals generally extend confidentiality to employees who come forward with issues with limited exceptions. Where confidentiality cannot be granted, the ER/HR professional will explain that to the employee. ER/HR professionals are not entirely neutral because they are part of the management structure and charged with the responsibility of representing and protecting the interests of the organization.
Ombuds provide informal assistance in surfacing and resolving issues. While they can recommend that an organization consider establishing or revising policy, ombuds play no formal role in enforcing or deciding to implement policy. Ombuds do not conduct formal investigations. However, they do assist in identifying or creating options for resolution, including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers. Because they are not part of the management structure of the organization, ombuds do not accept notice for the organization and can extend near absolute confidentiality (except in the instance of imminent threat of serious harm, as jointly defined by the organization and the ombuds, at the discretion of the ombuds). Ombud act as a neutral party and do not advocate for the individual, groups or the organization. The only advocacy role is for fairness and equity.
The roles of ombuds and ER/HR professionals are not competing roles; they are complementary. When the two functions work together in an effective partnership, they can yield tremendous benefit to an organization by maintaining an environment that encourages the use of multiple options to surface and resolve issues and to improve systemic policies and procedures.
The International Ombuds Association Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics is available on the IOA website.
How does an ombud differ from a lawyer?
Ombuds do not provide legal advice.
Is an ombud the same as a conflict mediator?
No. An ombud works to manage conflict within an organization, whereas mediation is a specific process used for conflict resolution, often brought about through a formal mechanism in the university. Many ombuds are trained in and use mediation techniques as an approach to problem-solving and conflict management. Some ombuds write up a summary after parties have reached an agreement. However, faculty ombuds engage informally with faculty and will not retain written records for confidentiality reasons. If a written agreement is developed, others in the organization, such as the Human Resources department or a university administrator, may retain that document in a file for future reference by all parties involved.
What if I know someone else who would benefit from talking to an ombud? If I tell an ombud, will they reach out to the person?
No, but you can encourage that person to reach out to the ombuds.
As a supervisor, I think faculty members would benefit from knowing about the ombuds. Are the ombuds willing come to a faculty meeting?
Yes, the ombuds can attend faculty meetings to explain the services they offer.
What if the ombud-related informal process doesn't work to my satisfaction?
You are not precluded from pursuing formal remedies and the ombud is equipped to refer you to formal options if that is your wish.
Information about best practices for the faculty ombuds came from the following sources: Brown University, California Polytechnic State University, DePaul University, Iowa State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Texas A & M University, University of Denver, University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska Omaha, and University of Wisconsin.