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Purpose and Procedures

Introduction

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Ombuds Office was established by the Office of the Provost in 2003 to provide a confidential, neutral resource for staff and faculty to raise and clarify issues and concerns, identify options, and request assistance to informally resolve workplace conflicts. This document defines the role and responsibilities of the University Ombuds, and serves as a clear and consistent set of operating principles and expectations.

The campus Ombuds Office works collaboratively with the Ombuds in the School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), who has served those faculty, staff and students since 1998, adding the School of Pharmacy (SOP) in 2006.

Mission statement

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Ombuds Office provides informal, neutral, and confidential services to staff and faculty, for the purpose of resolving university-related problems and concerns. The Ombuds advocate for fairness, equity, and a respectful work environment.

Purpose and scope of services

The Ombuds Office is a place where UW-Madison employees can seek guidance regarding concerns at any time, without fear of reprisal, and at no cost to them. Ombuds confidentially receive questions and concerns related to individual situations as well as broader systemic issues. The response of the Ombuds is tailored to the dynamics of the situation and the nature of the concerns. Ombuds assist parties in reaching resolutions that are consistent with the ideals and objectives of the university. Services offered by the Ombuds Office supplement, but do not replace, other more formal processes available to the university community. In addition, Ombuds serve as a communication resource and catalyst for institutional change for the university by reporting trends and identifying opportunities to enhance policies and procedures. Ombuds cannot impose remedies or sanctions or enforce or change any policy, rule or procedure. Due to the role of the Ombuds, communication with the Ombuds does not serve notice to the University.

More specifically, the Ombuds:

  • Provide individual problem assistance services
  • Listen impartially and give unbiased feedback
  • Provide a confidential place to collaboratively explore complaints, clarify issues, and consider options
  • Point employees toward available services and resources
  • Assist with early problem-solving, to minimize the escalation of conflict
  • Encourage and empower employees to find their own solutions to problems
  • Provide support for addressing work place problems
  • Facilitate communication when conflict arises
  • Serve as facilitator in group problem-solving
  • With the Visitor's consent, consult with university units and departments to obtain more information about the issue and explore options for conflict resolution
  • Suggest the redirection of matters to formal channels when appropriate
  • Serve the UW-Madison community
  • Advocate for and model fairness, equity, and a healthy work environment
  • Identify and report about campus trends and problem areas
  • Make recommendations regarding changes in policy and procedure
  • Promote equality, inclusion and access for all persons

Limitations of ombuds office authority

Ombuds do not have any formal decision-making capability, or the ability to determine "Guilt" or "Innocence" in any matter. Ombuds do not offer legal advice and do not act as an advocate or representative of any individual or entity. Ombuds do not offer psychological counseling. Ombuds remove themselves if or when a grievance is filed.

Standards of practice and code of ethics

Ombuds adhere to the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. These tenets require that Ombuds function independently of their organization, be confidential and neutral, and limit the scope of their services to informal means of conflict resolution. The IOA Standards and Code are minimum standards, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ombuds strive to operate to standards of "best practices" and in a way that serves the interests of the university. The Ombuds office maintains membership in IOA and, whenever possible, takes part in IOA national or regional training opportunities. Ombuds maintain consistent policies and procedures which are made available upon request. Ombuds publicize the nature of Ombuds services and explain the ethical standards to each person seeking the services of the office. The essential characteristics of the Ombuds function are Independence, Confidentiality, Informality, and Neutrality.

Independence

Ombuds are independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible.

Confidentiality

Ombuds hold all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence. All information exchanged remains confidential except for instances where there appears to be imminent danger to the Visitor or others.

Informality

Ombuds do not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure. Use of Ombuds services is totally voluntary and not a required step in any UW-Madison grievance process or university procedure.

Neutrality

Ombuds impartially consider the interests of all parties involved in a situation, in order to assist the parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements that are fair and equitable, and consistent with the mission and policies of UW-Madison. An individual Ombuds may decline to assist a Visitor or withdraw from the process if she/he believes involvement would be inappropriate due to conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest.

Ombuds office structure

The Ombuds Office employs retired faculty and staff who work part-time. Currently (2007) there are four individuals who share one full-time position. Their offices and conference room are located in the Lowell Center, 610 Langdon Street.

The Ombuds report to the Provost through the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate.

Operating procedures

UW-Madison employees who wish to talk to an Ombuds leave a message on the Ombuds' phone (608-265-9992). The Ombuds rotate full weeks monitoring the phone and responding to calls. Generally Ombuds meet with individuals or small groups in the Ombuds' conference room in the Lowell Center, but are available to meet at other locations when more convenient.

Callers are referred to as "Visitors" to further emphasize the confidential and impartial nature of the relationship. A Visitor's consultation with the Ombuds Office is considered to be voluntary and should not be viewed as a requirement for any grievance process. Employees may visit with the Ombuds during their normal work hours. Under some circumstances, it may be necessary to receive approval to leave an assigned work area. If an employee wants to access services completely confidentially, the employee may consider the use of approved leave, scheduled break time, or visit outside normal work hours.

Reporting

Each August, the Ombuds submit an Annual Report to the Provost. The report is subsequently distributed to campus leaders and made available to the general university community. The report provides general information about visitor demographics, issues and concerns they have experienced, any trends or patterns observed, and recommendations for improving campus climate for employees.

Record keeping

To protect Visitors' confidentiality Ombuds do not create or maintain documents or records for the university about individual matters. The only information retained from contacts by Visitors is that regarding demographics and types of issues raised. These data are not associated with Visitors' names or any other identifying information such as department or school/college/division.

Receiving notice for the university

The Ombuds Office is not designated by UW-Madison as an entity authorized to receive reports of possible violations of University policies or of unlawful practices. Therefore communications made to the Ombuds regarding possible violations do not constitute notice to UW-Madison. This provision ensures the freedom of Ombuds to work independently and confidentially with individuals seeking assistance.

Ombuds qualifications and appointment process

Ombuds are part-time professional employees of UW-Madison (consultants), appointed by the Provost when vacancies occur.

Important qualifications for ombuds include:

  1. knowledge of university policies and resources
  2. extensive cross campus experience
  3. strong communication skills
  4. ability to be objective and neutral

Ombuds are selected from interested retired faculty and academic and classified staff.

In making each appointment, the Provost strives for diverse experiences on campus, and a balance of faculty and staff, and of gender and ethnicity.

When vacancies occur, the Ombuds and Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate initiate a search, publicizing the position and encouraging colleagues to apply. Candidates are interviewed by the Vice Provost and the Ombuds. The Provost makes the final decision based on their recommendations.

The Ombuds for the School of Medicine & Public Health and the School of Pharmacy is appointed by the respective Deans.

Training

The IOA recommends professional training of all new Ombuds. Since the inception of the Ombuds Office in 2003, all Ombuds have undergone a two-day training by a university Ombuds who formerly trained new Ombuds at the annual meeting of the IOA. All new Ombuds have also attended the annual conference of the IOA. Ombuds attend occasional regional conferences. In addition, experienced Ombuds guide new Ombuds as needed.

 
 
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