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Charter for the Faculty Ombuds Office

Informal problem solving and conflict management for all Boise State Faculty


This Charter Agreement is based on the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice developed by the International Ombuds Association

I. INTRODUCTION

The office of the Faculty Ombuds, Boise State University was established in Fall 2008 to provide an accessible, confidential, neutral, independent and informal resource to assist in the resolution of issues and conflicts for all faculty. This agreement defines the privileges and responsibilities of the office of the Faculty Ombuds.

II. PURPOSE AND SCOPE OF SERVICES

The Faculty Ombuds goal is to help faculty solve problems early, informally, and at the lowest levels possible without the need to pursue more formal grievance procedures. Any faculty member of the Boise State community may bring a concern to the Faculty Ombuds.

The Boise State Faculty Ombuds is an impartial concerned party whose primary role is to help faculty members resolve problems involving or affecting them. This individual is neither an advocate for the faculty nor an agent for the university. Rather, the Faculty Ombuds is an advocate for fair practices and fosters integrity and timeliness in the administration of campus policies and practices that affect faculty members. The Faculty Ombuds also may recommend policy changes to alleviate chronic problem areas.

An ombuds is an informal channel for dispute resolution. It is intended to complement, and not supplant, formal channels such as reporting structures, grievance procedures, or legal means. An ombuds can provide information about formal channels as options to pursue in addition to informal approaches. Likewise, an ombuds can assist the faculty member in weighing the appropriateness of different options for his/her individual needs, and can provide assistance after formal processes are completed. However, the Faculty Ombuds cannot and will not become actively involved in formal grievances or legal actions.

Non-participation in formal and/or legal grievance procedures is important since an ombuds’ work is intended to be kept confidential. Participating in formal grievance procedures would violate this intention by acknowledging conversations with individuals about issues that were promised to be kept confidential. Also, formal grievance procedures, by definition, are adversarial. An ombuds’ role is to remain impartial. Providing information that might assist one party – to the detriment of another – violates this aspect of the mission of the office.

Because of its unique, informal, problem-solving function, contacting the office of the Faculty Ombuds about a concern does NOT constitute legal “notice” to the institution that the problem exists. Anyone wishing to “put the institution on notice” must contact an administrator or invoke formal grievance procedures.

III. STANDARDS OF PRACTICE AND CODE OF ETHICS

The Faculty Ombuds shall adhere to the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics defined by the International Ombudsman Association (“IOA”). These tenets require that an ombuds shall:

  • function independently of his/her organization,
  • be confidential and neutral,
  • limit the scope of his/her services to informal means of dispute resolution
  • be truthful and act with integrity,
  • foster respect for all members of the organization
  • promote procedural fairness in the content and administration of the organization’s practices, processes and policies, and
  • be a member of the International Ombudsman Association and attend regular trainings and the annual IOA conferences.

The four foundational principles for the Faculty Ombuds are the following:

A. Independence

The Faculty Ombuds shall be, and appear to be, free from interference in the performance of his or her duties. This independence is affected primarily through organizational recognition, reporting structure, and neutrality. The Faculty Ombuds shall operate independent of ordinary line and staff structures. He/she shall exercise sole discretion over whether and how to act regarding individual matters or systemic concerns. The Faculty Ombuds will be guaranteed reasonable access to University personnel relevant to an issue, and records based upon a specific request made by a visitor, in order to gather information needed for the inquiry.

To fulfill his/her functions, the Faculty Ombuds shall be assured sufficient resources to meet operating needs and pursue continuing professional development. The Faculty Ombuds shall report to the office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for administrative and budgetary matters and trends affecting the university climate. At no time is the Faculty Ombuds permitted to share information identifying an individual using his/her services with the Provost or any others unless permission to do so is provided by said individual.

B. Confidentiality

All contacts, conversations, and information exchanged with an ombuds are confidential and will not be disclosed without the consent of the parties involved and the ombuds. Confidentiality cannot be waived by any party. The limits to confidentiality are when disclosure is necessary to protect someone from harm, when child abuse is indicated, or when otherwise required by law. An ombuds shall not participate in any formal process inside or outside the University, unless compelled to do so by court order or applicable law.

C. Neutrality

An ombuds does not take sides on an issue nor represent or advocate on behalf of any party. Rather, it is the role of an ombuds to consider the facts, rights, interests, and safety of all parties involved in a search for a fair and mutually acceptable resolution to a problem. The Faculty Ombuds advocates for fairness and justice consistent with the mission and policies of the University.

An ombuds shall avoid involvement in matters where there may be a conflict of interest. (A conflict of interest occurs when an ombuds’ private interests, real or perceived, supersede or compete with his/her dedication to the neutral and independent role.) When a conflict of interest exists, the Faculty Ombuds shall take all steps necessary to disclose and/or avoid the conflict.

D. Informality

The Faculty Ombuds shall be a resource for informal dispute resolution only. All consultations are conducted “off the record” and do not constitute notice to the University. Persons wanting to establish “notice” to the university should contact an administrator or administrative office, or he/she should initiate a formal proceeding. The Faculty Ombuds will provide information on who to contact and how to use administrative or grievance procedures for persons wanting to establish a formal record or who want formal consideration of their complaint. Individuals using the services of an ombuds retain their rights to all formal procedures ordinarily available to them.

The Faculty Ombuds shall not formally investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any internal or external formal process or action. Use of the Faculty Ombuds shall be voluntary and not a required step in any grievance process or University policy.

The Faculty Ombuds will not retain individual records for subsequent formal proceedings, nor will they serve as a witness or offer testimony in any formal proceeding, unless required by law.

IV. AUTHORITY AND LIMITS OF THE OMBUDS

The authority of the Faculty Ombuds derives from the University administration as manifest by the endorsement of the University Provost.

A. Authority of the Ombuds

1. Reporting Patterns

The Faculty Ombuds shall keep records for statistical purposes, without identifying information, in order to describe usage and identify trends. At least annually, he/she shall submit a report to the Provost and the President of the Faculty Senate summarizing the number and types of issues and resolutions addressed by the office of the Faculty Ombuds. This report should also make special note of problem areas evidenced by case trends.

2. Access to Information

The Faculty Ombuds may request access to information related to visitors’ concerns, from files and offices of the University, and shall respect the confidentiality of that information. Requests for information should be handled with reasonable promptness by University departments.

3. Ending Involvement in Matters

The Faculty Ombuds may withdraw from or decline to look into a matter if he/she believes involvement would be inappropriate for any reason.

4. Discussions with Visitors and Others

The Faculty Ombuds has the authority to discuss a range of options available to his/her visitors, including both informal and formal processes. He/she may make any recommendations deemed appropriate with regard to resolving problems or improving policies, rules or procedures. However, the Faculty Ombuds shall have no actual authority to impose remedies or sanctions or to enforce or change any policy, rule or procedure.

5. Access to Legal Counsel

On occasion, the Ombuds may require legal advice or representation in order to fulfill his/her required functions. The Ombuds shall be provided with legal counsel separate and independent from the University in the event he/she is asked for documents or testimony related to any litigation or other formal process arising out of Ombuds’ activities.

B. Limitations on the Authority of the Ombuds

1. Receiving Notice for the University

Communication to the Faculty Ombuds shall not constitute notice to the University. This includes allegations that may be perceived to be violations of laws, regulations or policies, such as sexual harassment, issues covered by whistleblower policy, or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act. Although the Faculty Ombuds may receive such allegations, he/she is not a “campus security authority” as defined in the Clery Act, nor is he/she required to report these allegations to the University. In addition, if the visitor discloses such allegations and expresses a desire to make a formal report, the Faculty Ombuds shall refer the visitor to the appropriate university office(s) for administrative or formal grievance processes.

2. Putting the University on Notice

If a visitor would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or wishes for information to be provided to the University, the Faculty Ombuds shall provide the visitor with information so that the visitor may do so himself/herself. In certain situations, including but not limited to situations that involve public safety, harm to self or others, violations of law, discrimination, or sexual harassment, a Faculty Ombuds may have an ethical obligation to put the University on notice in order to protect the safety of members of the University community. If the Faculty Ombuds decides to put the University on notice, he or she shall do so in writing to the extent practicable.

3. Formal Processes and Investigations

The Faculty Ombuds shall not conduct formal investigations of any kind. Likewise, he/she shall not participate in the substance of any formal dispute processes, outside agency complaints or lawsuits, either on behalf of a visitor to the Faculty Ombuds or on behalf of the University unless compelled to do so by court order or applicable law.

4. Record Keeping

The Faculty Ombuds shall not keep records for the University, and shall not create or maintain documents or records for the University about individual matters. Notes and any other materials related to a matter shall be maintained in a secure location and manner, and shall be destroyed once the faculty ombuds’ involvement in the matter is concluded.

5. Advocacy for Parties

It is of paramount importance that the Faculty Ombuds not compromise their status as a neutral third party. Thus, the Faculty Ombuds shall not act as an advocate or representative for any individual party in a dispute, nor for the University administration.

6. Adjudication of Issues

The Faculty Ombuds shall not have authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change University policies or rules.

V. RETALIATION FOR USING THE OMBUDS OFFICE

No person shall be retaliated against for consulting with the Faculty Ombuds.

VI. ORGANIZATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS OF THE FACULTY OMBUDS OFFICE

The Faculty Ombuds is independent of existing administrative structures. The Faculty Ombuds shall report to the office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for administrative and budgetary matters. He/she will maintain close working relationships with both the Faculty Senate and the Office of Human Resource Services. An Ombuds Advisory Committee will meet periodically to assist in the evaluation of the Faculty Ombuds, make suggestions for areas of investigation, and act as a sounding board for issues or conflicts that might arise in the execution of the Faculty Ombuds’ role.