The word ombudsman (OM-budz-man) comes from Sweden and literally means “representative.” Many variations of the name are used, including ombudsman, ombudsperson or ombuds. A college or university Ombudsman is a confidential and independent resource for all members of the campus community to talk with informally. The Ombuds office provides a safe and neutral place for faculty, staff, students, parents and retirees to discuss conflicts, concerns or problems.
The Ombudsman is committed to the pursuit of equity and fairness and facilitates communication and serves as a safe first step in dealing with a problem, as a last resort, or at any point along the way. It’s a good place to visit to evaluate your options when you’re unsure how to proceed. The Ombudsman’s role is to listen, understand, coach, inform, strategize, problem-solve, mediate, refer and provide upward feedback as appropriate. The mission of the Ombudsman’s Office is to resolve concerns, explore options for resolution, make informed decisions, and to persist in building and preserving collaborative relationships within the campus community.
The Ombudsman will arrange a confidential meeting at a time and place convenient for anyone interested in meeting. It’s helpful to make an appointment, but visitors can drop by the office without an appointment. It would be most effective to meet in person, but a meeting via telephone can also be arranged. The Ombudsman will generally not work through email and discourages the sharing of any confidential information.
Reeder Hall, 312
219 Meadville Street
Edinboro, PA 16444
Phone: (814) 732-1710
Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
By appointment at other times and other locations, if necessary.
The Ombudsman maintains confidentiality and will not identify you or discuss your particular concerns with anyone unless given permission, and only to the extent that you permit, absent compelling reasons (ie, risk of imminent harm). An Ombudsman typically does not testify in any court or jurisdiction, formal hearing or grievance process. The Office will not maintain any records and destroys all notes. The Office can, with permission and if appropriate, contact the other party and seek additional information or clarification to better understand the nature of the problem.
All members of the campus community have a right to consult voluntarily with the Ombudsman’s Office. Any communication is off-the-record and does not put the University on notice of a problem. If you wish to place the University on notice, the Ombudsman can provide information on how to do so. However, the Ombudsman’s Office is not a substitute for formal procedures, such as filing a grievance or a formal complaint.
The Ombudsman seeks processes that are fair and equitable to all parties. The Office is an impartial and objective resource for the University community and has no decision-making authority and does not judge, discipline or reward anyone.
The Ombudsman is independent and reports to the President for administrative purposes only.
Who does the Ombudsman’s Office serve?
The Ombudsman’s Office is equally available to all staff, faculty, students, parents of students and University retirees. The Ombudsman is receptive, respectful and welcoming to everyone accessing the services offered by the Office, and actively works to establish, maintain and increase trust with all our campus constituencies.
When should I contact the Ombudsman’s Office?
The sooner you contact the Ombudsman with your concern, the better. No concern or conflict is too small or too big to receive help, but the sooner you reach out for assistance with your concern, the more options you may have to resolve it effectively. Reaching out may feel intimidating, but it’s a key step in getting the situation back on target.
What can the Ombudsman’s Office do to help me?
Individuals often choose to meet with the Ombudsman because it is informal, assures confidentiality and is independent from University administration. The Ombudsman’s responses are based on each individual situation and informed consent. Anyone wishing to meet with the Ombudsman can expect him/her to:
What can’t the Ombudsman’s Office do?
The Ombudsman will do his/her best to provide the assistance you need. However, there are some things he/she cannot do:
How does the Ombudsman remain neutral?
The Ombudsman’s Office operates under the Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsman Association. Neutrality is one of the key ethical principles and means that visitors to the Office can expect that they will be treated even-handedly, that the Ombudsman will not favor one person over another nor will the Ombudsman have any interest in the outcome of situations in an effort to be fair and objective in the consideration of information and the range of options presented.
What authority does the Ombudsman have?
The Ombudsman is authorized to confidentially receive complaints, concerns or inquiries and to informally negotiate and mediate resolution of campus-related issues. The Ombudsman does not have the authority to tell others what to do or not do, but the Office does have the authority to contact managers and senior officers of the University, to gather information in the course of looking into a problem, to bring concerns to the attention of those in authority, and to attempt to expedite administrative processes. Although the Ombudsman does not have the power to change University rules or policies, recommendations can be made to those with the authority to make changes.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary conflict resolution process where the participants, together with the assistance of the Ombudsman, sit together and discuss issues of mutual concern to develop options, consider alternatives and try to reach an agreement that addresses both participants’ needs and interests.
To whom does the Ombudsman report and what exactly is reported?
The Ombudsman’s Office is an independent department of the Office of the President. The Ombudsman reports directly to the President for administrative purposes only and does not report on or disclose the substance of individual cases, concerns or conversations. The Ombudsman’s Office is not a record keeper, and confidential case notes are shredded regularly and routinely. The Ombudsman maintains anonymous, aggregate demographic data for statistical purposes only. The data is retained in order to identify emerging trends, highlight issues and areas of concern, and to make recommendations to senior leaders on campus. The statistics have no identifying links to any visitor.
Is the Ombudsman an advocate for those who use the office?
No. The Ombudsman does not take sides in a dispute. He/she does not advocate for individuals or decide who is right or wrong. The interests and rights of each individual involved in the conflict are carefully considered with the goal of promoting a fair, balanced and civil process to effectively resolve the issues that were raised.
What if a matter is brought to the attention of the Ombudsman and it cannot be resolved informally?
The Ombudsman will refer the visitor to an appropriate office. It is up to the individual to determine if a formal complaint will be filed.
Can I use the Ombudsman when I have filed a grievance or retained an attorney or union representative?
No. The Office is an informal resource designed to resolve complaints, concerns or problems before a grievance has been filed or an attorney or union representative has been retained.
If I have a dispute or conflict when there is a power imbalance, how can the Office help?
The role of an Ombudsman is to remain impartial, to listen to and acknowledge all parties’ concerns and interests, to gather facts and ask appropriate questions as an informal means to help parties identify acceptable outcomes.
How does the Ombudsman add value to the University?