Ombudsperson

What is a student/housestaff ombudsperson?

Each Dean has appointed an ombudsperson as a designated, confidential resource for students and housestaff ("visitors") seeking information or solutions to problems. The unique nature of the ombudsperson is one of neutrality, impartiality and independence from the School's and University's established administrative structures. Thus, the ombudsperson is not a student/house officer advocate and does not represent the student's or house officer's interests. The ombudsperson is also not an agent of the institution, is not responsible for academic or disciplinary decisions concerning students or housestaff, and is independent of all administrators who have notice, compliance, regulatory, enforcement, adjudicatory and disciplinary functions such as deans or program directors. Instead, the ombudsperson aims for fairness, and impartially considers the interests of all parties. The ombudsperson does not make decisions, render judgments or administer sanctions. Instead, she or he identifies options, provides information, refers visitors to other resources if appropriate, facilitates communication between people, may mediate disputes or negotiate resolutions between parties, and recommends changes in policy or procedure to School/University administrators.

The assistance of an ombudsperson is informal and non-adversarial, separate from existing formal grievance and complaint procedures. Bringing complaints or problems to the ombudsperson does not constitute placing the University on formal notice. Visitors can always invoke the formal procedures. Sometimes the ombudsperson herself or himself may recommend this course of action and refer the visitor to the appropriate office. In any case, the ombudsperson will not participate in a formal process.

Each School has also identified another individual as a research ombudsperson whose focus is on research disputes and problems. This person is available to assist faculty and staff as well as students and housestaff on issues related to research.

Confidentiality

The ombudsperson strives to maintain confidentiality and respect privacy to the maximum extent permitted by law. The ombudsperson will not keep records with any personally identifiable information, and usually will not share any information received from visitors without the visitors' permission. However there are legal and ethical standards which may require the ombudsperson to disclose certain kinds of information, such as statutory violations, imminent threats of serious harm to an individual (the visitor or others), or to the University and its property, or about serious misconduct, harassment or the commission of a crime. The ombudsperson must also comply with court orders and valid subpoenas.

Relationship with the Dean, School/University administrators, faculty, other students/housestaff

The ombudsperson maintains a great degree of independence within the School and University hierarchy. The ombudsperson is answerable only to the Dean, annually summarizing for the Dean the office's activities without revealing any personal or confidential information about cases. The ombudsperson also makes recommendations to the Dean for specific and systemic changes and improvements in School policy, procedure, environment, etc., based upon the pattern of problems and complaints brought forward by visitors. The ombudsperson has the full support of the University's Office of Academic Affairs, Office of AA/EEO and Office of Legal Management. The ombudsperson, in addition, is authorized to approach any individual - administrator, faculty member, other student or house officer - in pursuit of information, resolutions to problems or complaints, or to make recommendations.

For a list of the School's Ombudspersons, click here