Ombuds Program Charter and Terms of Reference

I. General Program Description

The Faculty Ombuds Program shall be constituted to provide NAU faculty with voluntary, informal, neutral, confidential, third-party assistance in resolving university-related issues, concerns, or conflicts.   Faculty ombuds shall be appointed by the Provost for an annual term, which may be renewable.  Faculty ombuds shall be selected through a process which seeks individuals willing and able to fulfill the Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association (formerly, the University and College Ombuds Association).  Faculty shall serve as trained faculty ombuds under the direction of the Faculty Ombuds Coordinator and will fulfill annual program requirements for continuing training as determined by the Coordinator.  Their work as ombuds shall be subject to periodic review by the Coordinator and the Provost.

Serving as a faculty ombuds is considered as fulfilling a university service requirement, similar to serving on a major university standing committee. 

II. Program Roles and Operating Principles 

Informality

An ombuds works outside the formal problem-resolution and grievance procedures of the university.  The role of an ombuds is to listen, receive, and provide information from parties, provide informal facilitation between parties when requested, and such other functions normally seen as within the purview of a university ombudsperson.  An ombuds does not make, change, or set aside policy or previous administrative decisions, nor does an ombuds serve to determine the rights of others or to unilaterally resolve conflicts. 

An ombuds provides services on a voluntary basis.  No individual can be compelled to seek assistance from the Faculty Ombuds Program or to participate in an ombuds’ session.  In addition, an ombuds has the discretion to determine whether a request for services will be accepted. 

Use of the Faculty Ombuds Program is not a required step in any internal grievance procedure or other faculty process.   The Faculty Ombuds Program is not part of any university review or appeal process. 

While an ombuds may engage in informal, confidential fact-seeking or otherwise gather information related to a particular issue/case, the Faculty Ombuds Program does not engage in formal investigation or fact-finding on behalf of individuals or the university.  If an ombuds concludes a formal investigation may be necessary, the ombuds shall refer the individual to the appropriate university office. 

While an ombuds may prepare written notes while assisting parties to an issue or case, the Faculty Ombuds Program generally will not keep written records of its cases.  However, this shall not preclude maintaining aggregate data on overall cases which allow for periodic evaluation of faculty ombuds and the Faculty Ombuds Program itself. 

Independence

Faculty ombuds will operate under the supervision of the Faculty Ombuds Program Coordinator. The Faculty Ombuds Program is intended to be independent in its structure, function, and appearance.  This means that in the legitimate performance of his/her duties, an ombuds shall be free from interference, retaliation, or the control of others outside the Ombuds Program.       

An ombuds responds to the issues, concerns, or problems of others by request rather than by proceeding on his/her own initiative.  

An ombuds has access to all appropriate administrative levels within the university and is authorized to obtain information necessary in the resolution of conflict (except where prohibited by ABOR policies, university policies, or by law).   

Neutrality (Impartiality)

An ombuds shall be neutral, impartial, and absent of self-interest in the performance of his/her duties in the program.  An ombuds shall act in such fashion as to respect the rights of all parties in a conflict.  An ombuds does not give legal advice or acts as anyone’s representative, advisor, or counselor.   An ombuds does not serve as an advocate for an individual or for the university. 

An ombuds may strive to uphold an important workplace principle (such as a fair process) in the resolution of a problem.  Upholding an important workplace principle may mean that suggestions are made to the Provost (or other appropriate university administrators) for considering change to university processes or procedures.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality is an essential characteristic of ombuds work.  An ombuds will not voluntarily disclose outside the ombuds’ office information provided by visitors (including the visitor’s identity) without the visitor’s explicit permission except as provided in this Charter. 

Confidentiality extends not only to the spoken word but to all other forms of communication to and with an ombuds in his/her work, including working records of an ombuds.  This includes information regarding whether someone did or did not contact the ombuds office.  Such information may be shared if permission is given by an ombuds office visitor and an ombuds also agrees to share this information.  In addition, an ombuds shall comply with all university regulations and standards relating to personal privacy and the confidentiality of information.

Exceptions to the principle of confidentiality include when an ombuds a) believes there is a reasonable risk of serious personal injury to anyone or future criminal activity, b) has knowledge of past criminal activity, or c) where information is legally required to be disclosed.

To the extent allowed by ABOR policy and law, an ombuds shall not be compelled to testify in any university hearing regarding matters brought to the ombuds office.   Nor shall the university seek an ombuds to reveal information received in the appropriate pursuit of his/her ombuds-related work except as legally required or as provided in this Charter.  

As allowed by ABOR policy and authorized by the Provost, the university shall attempt to protect an ombuds from subpoena by others seeking to extract information received in the appropriate pursuit of his/her duties as an ombuds.

Notice

Communications with an ombuds and the Faculty Ombuds Program are informal and off-the-record.  They do not constitute formal “notice” to Northern Arizona University of alleged, actual, or perceived inappropriate behavior by NAU employees.  Other channels exist within the University for such notice to be given and will be discussed by an ombuds as appropriate or when requested.              

Removal from Office

The assignment as an ombuds or Program Coordinator may be terminated by the Provost for such things as a violation of university policy or of willful or careless violations of the Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association.   This shall be done by means of a procedure established by the Provost taking into consideration the need for the legitimate and independent performance of an ombuds’ duties, free from the interference, retaliation, or control of others as well as the managerial and administrative responsibilities of the Provost as the university’s chief academic officer.

Program Effectiveness and Evaluation

The Faculty Ombuds Program and its Program Coordinator shall be evaluated annually by the Office of the Provost.  Information relevant to the effectiveness of the Faculty Ombuds Program will include aggregate statistics relating to office usage and types of cases handled, a satisfaction survey by users of the program, and such other information as the Provost may regard as appropriate.  In addition, a comprehensive review of both the program and the role of Program Coordinator will be conducted at no greater than three-year intervals to determine if Program continuation or modification is appropriate. 

III. Roles and Responsibilities of the Program Coordinator

The Faculty Ombuds Coordinator shall be appointed by the Provost for an annual term, which may be renewable. This appointment shall be a half-time, academic year appointment. The Coordinator shall be a member of the tenured faculty who, by experience, personal characteristics, and training, exemplifies the attributes of a qualified university ombuds. It shall be the responsibility of the Coordinator to maintain the operation and the integrity of the Faculty Ombuds Program in keeping with the Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association (see attached) insofar as practicable.

The “roles and operating principles” applied to faculty ombuds in Part II of this Charter shall also apply to the work of the Program Coordinator.  The Program Coordinator shall report to the Provost through the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel for administrative, budgetary, and evaluation purposes.

The specific responsibilities of the Coordinator shall include (but may not be limited to):

  • the selection, orientation and on-going training of the faculty ombuds;
  • maintenance of consistent standards among the various ombuds of the principles of confidentiality, impartiality, and independence;
  • handling of individual cases as well as coordination of all referrals to faculty ombuds;
  • gathering aggregate data on the ombuds program and presenting them periodically in report form to the Provost taking into consideration the confidentiality of individual cases; the Coordinator will have as part of his/her obligations commenting on trends in these data as well as on policies and practices of the University which should be brought to the attention of the Provost;
  • overseeing expenditures from the Faculty Ombuds Program budget;
  • coordinating publicity for the Faculty Ombuds Program.

Reference Documents for Standards for An Organizational Ombuds Offices

American Bar Association, Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. Standards for the Establishment and Operation of Ombuds Offices.  Washington, DC: August, 2001. 

International Ombudsman Association, “Standards of Practice,”http://www.ombudsassociation.org/