What is an "Ombudsman"?
The word ombudsman is of Swedish origin and literally translates to "representative." Ombuds work started with 19th century Scandinavian public officials who were appointed to investigate citizen complaints against governmental agencies. Today, organizational ombuds are often referred to as "designated neutrals." As such, they do not advocate for any individual or cause but for fairness and equity. There are now numerous different titles used for this unique role, including "ombudsman," "ombudsperson," "ombuds," and "ombuds officer."
Ombuds provide confidential, informal assistance to individuals and groups and help identify and facilitate the fair resolution of problems that arise in their organizations. They serve as an information and communication resource, upward feedback channel, dispute resolution practitioner, and agent of change.
Ombuds encourage the airing and resolution of both individual and systemic problems. They advocate for fairness in process and in the administration of process so that problems receive fair and impartial review.
When should I contact the University Ombudsman?
In many cases, problems are best handled when they're identified early. Because of the confidentiality privilege, it's never too soon to call the University Ombudsman to discuss a problem. The office responds to a variety of concerns. You might want to contact the University Ombudsman if:
- You need an outside opinion or a confidential sounding board
- You need help untangling a complicated situation
- You think you've been treated unfairly
- You are not sure which policy applies to your situation
- You need a mediator or facilitator
- You are having an interpersonal conflict with someone
- You are not sure where to go for help with your concern
What can the University Ombudsman do to help?
The University Ombudsman Office provides confidential assistance through informal means to the campus community on a range of problems. For example, the University Ombudsman will:
- Listen to you, help clarify issues, and help generate options for resolution
- Work with you on how to effectively frame and discuss your concerns
- Look into your concerns and answer your questions, or refer to you someone who can
- Explain University policies
- Look into procedural problems or whether a policy was appropriately applied
- Mediate disputes, facilitate meetings and communication among people in conflict, and help negotiate mutually agreeable outcomes
- Bring your concern forward if you are unable to do so, or if you are unable to get a response from the appropriate office
- Recommend changes in policies and procedures
- Provide upward feedback to senior University officials
- Provide impartial and confidential consultation to individuals or groups who feel they have been treated unfairly or are concerned about an issue
- Provide advice and training on conflict management and mediation
- What can't the University Ombudsman do?
The Office of the University Ombudsman supplements existing resources at the University, it does not duplicate them. If grievance procedures exist, such as those addressing grades or parking violations, the University Ombudsman will not replicate them. The University Ombudsman offers assistance through informal means only, and does not participate in union grievances or any other kind of formal grievances.
Additionally, the University Ombudsman cannot unilaterally change rules or policies, overrule a decision made by another University official or conduct formal investigations. Finally, as an independent, neutral, confidential, and informal resource the Ombudsman Office does not accept legal notice for Binghamton University. If you wish to "go on record" about a problem or put the University "on notice," the University Ombudsman can offer information on how to do so.
The Office of the Ombudsman does not provide legal advice or psychological treatment, however, the University Ombudsman can assist in referring visitors who seek these types of counseling to on or off-campus resources.
- What are the University Ombudsman's Standards of Practice?
The University Ombudsman holds voting membership in the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and adheres to the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. Confidentiality, neutrality, and independence are hallmarks of ombudsman practice.
The University Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. Limitations to confidentiality are extremely narrow and are detailed below.
The office maintains no formal case files, and takes all reasonable steps to protect records from inspection by all other persons.
Confidentiality also means that the University Ombudsman will not disclose whether you did or did not contact the office unless you give express permission to do so. This promise of confidentiality is intended to help you feel safe contacting the office.
Visitors cannot waive confidentiality of communications with the University Ombudsman. Therefore, if a problem is eventually taken to a formal grievance process, the University Ombudsman will not testify for or against anyone.
Communicating information to the University Ombudsman does not provide legal "notice' to Binghamton University. If you wish to put the institution "on notice" or to go "on record" with a problem, you must contact an appropriate officer of the University or invoke formal grievance procedures. The University Ombudsman can provide information on how and where to do that.
Limits of Confidentiality:
The University Ombudsman cannot guarantee confidentiality when:
- The University Ombudsman is a witness to a crime;
- There appears to be imminent threat of serious harm; or
- The office is required to release information by legal subpoena: while all attempts to protect the office from disclosure will be made, if those attempts fail, the University Ombudsman will not violate a valid court order.
The University Ombudsman is Binghamton University's "designated neutral." This means the University Ombudsman approaches each case impartially and without prejudice. The Ombudsman Office is committed to fairness, equity, and the humane treatment of all parties.
The University Ombudsman reports directly to the President of Binghamton University.