The ombuds role originated in Sweden in 1809, to ensure that government officials upheld their duties/obligations to the people. Today, however, there are several types of ombuds roles, with unique functions and duties.
Most American academic institutional ombuds, including the ombuds at Brown, are considered organizational ombuds. An organizational ombuds, by definition, is a confidential, neutral, informal, and independent resource that serves the internal community only and helps empower individuals and groups in that community to find working solutions to conflict. At Brown, like at many other academic institutions, the ombuds provides a diverse set of services.
The International Ombuds Association oversees the organizational ombuds profession. For more information about the organizational ombuds profession, watch this video, entitled, “Who are Ombuds?”
- To think through a conflict/concern you are experiencing in a confidential setting
- To discuss a situation off the record with someone knowledgeable about University policies and conflict management, so that you can decide whether to take action and, if so, what to do
- To receive help in communicating with another individual or group of people
- To get assistance with a difficult conversation with a colleague, co-worker, supervisor, someone you supervise or teach
- To think through an ethical or misconduct issue that you would like to address
- To seek facilitation or informal mediation support to help resolve a conflict
- To explore alternatives for resolving a problem
- To talk about a difficult decision you are facing and what options may be available
- To talk about a situation in which you believe you have been treated unfairly or improperly and want to know options that are available
- To learn the process for filing a formal complaint or appeal
- To request a reality check from an impartial perspective
- To try to resolve a conflict in an informal way
- To find the appropriate person, department or office within the University to respond to your question
- To learn how to resolve a conflict on one’s own
- To seek help in identifying constructive processes for addressing thorny issues – on an individual, small group, departmental or institutional level
- To learn what other resources may be available
- To ask for a confidential channel to surface information about a concerning situation
- To retain control over how your conflict/concern is handled
- Interpersonal disputes or conflicts (e.g., between and among any University community members, including colleagues, classmates, supervisors and supervisees, advisors and advisees, faculty and staff)
- Bureaucratic challenges, or navigating through bureaucracy
- Issues with compensation or benefits
- Ethical dilemmas and other difficult decisions
- Misconduct - academic, financial, or research-related
- Fear of retaliation
- Grades, academic credit, or intellectual property disputes
- Research-related matters, including but not limited to lab politics, conflict of interest, and scientific misconduct
- Harassment, discrimination, bias, abuse of power, bullying, unfair treatment, or disrespectful behavior
- Performance appraisal, promotion, professional development, or disciplinary action
- Change management issues
- Juggling family/personal responsibilities and work/study (e.g., stress, expectations, leave)
- Policies and procedures identification and/or clarification
- Safety issues
- Suggestions to improve Brown
- Conditions, culture, or climate of working or academic environment
To start, the University Ombuds will briefly share information about the ombuds role and the four principles of confidentiality, informality, neutrality, and independence under which the office operates. The University Ombuds will then answer any questions that you have, after which you will be invited to share information about your conflict and concern. The University Ombuds will listen actively to help you identify your issues and clarify your goals/interests. Then, you and the University Ombuds will brainstorm and explore options to address your concerns. These options may include referring you to other offices/resources at Brown, identifying policies and procedures that are relevant to your conflict/concern, discussing informal actions (e.g., engaging in a difficult conversation), or formal options (e.g., filing a formal grievance).
The University Ombuds may also be able to assist you by coaching you on conflict-resolution strategies, serving as a mediator or facilitator of a discussion you would like to have, operating as a shuttle diplomat by bringing information to the attention of appropriate individuals, or helping you to retrieve information you may be having trouble obtaining.
No matter what is discussed, you, the visitor, get to decide which option(s) you want to pursue.
The Ombuds Office operates under the four principles – confidentiality, informality, neutrality, and independence. Mandated by the professional Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, these four principles together allow the office to operate differently than other Brown support resources.
Importantly, from the outset, you decide if you wish to visit with the ombuds (it is voluntary), and later, after discussing options and other resources with the ombuds, you retain control over what you wish to do next vis a vis your conflict/concern.
For many, the confidentiality afforded by the office creates a safe space to come talk openly about concerns they are facing. Additionally, the informality provided by the office supports the sense that the ombuds is a place where visitors can talk freely; it is off-the record, where no case file that is developed and archived, and notes, emails, and voice mails related to the meetings/conversations are routinely destroyed.
So, too, as an impartial/unaligned resource, the office is available to all parties in a conflict or involved in a concern. Thus, regardless of what the conflict is and what your part is in it, you can know that the Ombuds Office will support you in finding productive ways forward.
Moreover, the Ombuds Office operates independently from other offices/resources at Brown, and it is separate and apart from any compliance function in the University. This independence allows the office to function impartially in part because it is not part of another office.
Further, the services provided by the Ombuds Office are supplemental and intended to complement the work of other offices, rather than replace or supersede that work.
The Ombuds Office serves faculty, staff, graduate students, medical students, and postdoctoral scholars.
A visitor is anyone who meets with (or visits) with the Ombuds Office to discuss an issue or concern.
Yes, not only is confidentiality a cornerstone of the office, but also it is required by the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the profession. This means that the Ombuds Office will not identify you or discuss your concerns with anyone without your permission unless the University Ombuds determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm or if the University Ombuds is compelled to do so by law.
No. The Ombuds Office is an informal and off-the-record resource which is *not* authorized to receive or accept legal notice of any claims against the University, including, but not limited to, allegations of a crime, research misconduct, sexual misconduct, discrimination, or harassment. Moreover, the Ombuds Office is *not* a mandatory reporter under Title IX, nor is it a Campus Security Authority under the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act.
However, you are always welcome to make an appointment with the Ombuds Office to talk about your concerns in these aforementioned areas, and if you seek to put the University on legal notice, the Ombuds Office will provide you with the process and/or refer you the appropriate office(s) or administrators so that you may do so directly.
The Ombuds Office maintains anonymous, aggregate data. Formal records are not created, nor are personally identifiable documents preserved. Informal notes may be temporarily created only insofar as they are necessary for case management and are disposed of at the conclusion of the concern.
You are always invited to contact the Ombuds Office no matter what conflict or concern you are facing at Brown. The office can also help you quickly determine if another resource may be better suited to your needs/interests or if there is a reason that the Ombuds Office may not work with you (e.g., collective bargaining matter, conflict of interest).
An ombuds office charter is a document that defines the role of the ombuds and scope of their duties, and establishes a shared understanding of how the ombuds office will function within an organization. View the Brown University Ombuds Office Charter.
The Ombuds Office recommends that you use email to set up appointments, but that you not use it to detail your concern/conflict. The reason for this is that email communication is not fully confidential, and sharing information through email may inadvertently jeopardize the confidentiality you are hoping to preserve/obtain.
No, not at all. However, while no formal preparation is necessary, it may be helpful to you to collect your thoughts before visiting with the Ombuds Office. Below are some questions to consider:
- What is the conflict/concern that you are facing?
- How do you hope to improve or resolve your situation?
- Who else is involved in the conflict/concern?
- If this situation has been going on for a while, do you have a clear sense of the timeline?
- Have you tried to work out the situation before reaching out to the University Ombuds, and, if so, what did you do and what happened as a result of your action(s)?
- Is something or someone holding you back from addressing this concern/conflict? If so, what and/or who are doing so?
- Are there any documents that you want to share with the University Ombuds during your meeting (e.g., emails, disciplinary letters)?