The Office of the NDSU Ombudsperson was established through the office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs in 2013. The vision for the office is to serve Academic Affairs and, if successful, expand to serve staff and/or students as well.
The position description states:
This is a newly-formed, benefited position serving as an independent, impartial, and informal resource for NDSU faculty with a focus on early-stage, informal dispute resolution. The ombudsperson is not an advocate for individuals or the university but rather a facilitator of fairness. The ombudsperson shall 1) help establish and then maintain the ombudsperson office, 2) assist with the resolution of conflicts and concerns, 3) serve as a resource of information and referral, 4) provide advice and guidance on policies and procedures, 5) conduct periodic faculty training and outreach, 6) prepare annual and other reports, 7) identify problem areas within the university, 8) recommend areas for improvement to university policies and procedures, 9) follow IOA standards and best practices, and 10) develop professional skills through IOA membership and regular training. The ombudsperson undergoes an annual evaluation by the Provost through a process of self-assessment, client assessment, and a qualitative and quantitative assessment conducted by a committee appointed by the Faculty Senate.
II. PURPOSE & SCOPE OF SERVICES:
The Office provides early-stage, informal dispute resolution services for NDSU faculty who have a concern. Members of the University community can seek guidance regarding disputes or concerns at no cost.
The Office receive informal complaints, concerns, or questions about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and/or broader systemic problems. The response of the Office is tailored to the dynamics of the situation and the visitor's concerns. The Ombud listens, makes informal inquiries or otherwise reviews matters received, offers resolution options, makes referrals, and mediates disputes independently and impartially. Services of the Office supplement, but do not replace, other processes (formal or informal) available to the University community.
The Ombud serves as an information and communication resource, consultant, conflict coach, mediator, dispute resolution expert, and source of recommendations for institutional change for the University. The Ombud also provides workshops and training related to conflict resolution. The Ombud provides feedback to the University when trends, patterns, policies, or procedures of the University generate concerns or conflicts.
STANDARDS OF PRACTICE & CODE OF ETHICS:
The Office practices under the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, and this Charter adopts and incorporates by reference the IOA Standards of Practice, IOA Code of Ethics, and IOA Best Practices. The Office functions independently of other university offices and functions. Conversations with the Ombud endeavor to be confidential by agreement and the Ombud works as an impartial neutral. The primary scope of services is limited to informal means of dispute resolution. The Ombuds is a member of IOA, and will attend IOA conferences and trainings as they are available. The IOA Standards, Code, and Best Practices are minimum standards, and the Office will also strive to operate to best practices in a way that serves the interests of the University community.
The Office will publicize the confidential, independent, neutral, and informal nature of its services and will explain these ethical standards to each visitor.
The Office is and must appear to be free from interference in the performance of its duties. This independence is effected primarily through organizational recognition, reporting structure, and neutrality. The Ombud will exercise sole discretion over whether and how to act regarding individual matters or systemic concerns. Evaluation of the office will be conducted by the Office of the Provost with input from the Faculty Affairs Committee under the direction of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.
To fulfill its functions, the Office has a specific allocated budget, adequate space, and sufficient resources to meet operating needs and pursue continuing professional development. The Ombud has the authority to manage the budget and operations of the Office and reports to the Office of the Provost regarding administrative and budgetary matters.
The Office endeavors to keep all visits confidential, and will not disclose any confidential information unless required by law, nor without the party' express permission and, even with that permission, any communication will be at the sole discretion of the Office. Confidentiality will be respected even if disclosure may prevent resolution of a problem. The Office may, however, disclose confidential information if and when there is an imminent risk of physical harm, a violation of Title IX, or when North Dakota’s Open Records Laws require disclosure.
The Office offers mediation services and follows ND State law and policy governing the confidentiality of the mediation process. Mediated agreements or other documents otherwise discoverable are not considered confidential whether or not they were created as part of the mediation process.
The Office will not keep record of the identity of visitors. The Office is not part of any formal investigation or process inside or outside the University. Visitors shall be put on notice that the use of email is a public activity and any email or other formal correspondence sent to the Ombud will be not be considered confidential.
The Office is neutral in its activities, and will not take sides in any conflict, dispute, or issue. The Ombud will impartially consider the interests and concerns of all parties involved in a situation with the aim of facilitating communication and assisting the parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements that are fair, equitable, and consistent with the mission and policies of the University.
The Office will avoid involvement in matters where there may be a conflict of interest. (A conflict of interest occurs when the Ombud's private interests, real or perceived, supersede or compete with their dedication to the neutral and independent role of the Office.) When a conflict of interest exists, the Ombud will take all steps necessary to disclose and/or avoid the conflict.
The Office is a resource for informal dispute resolution. The Office does not formally investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any internal or external formal process or action. Use of the Office is voluntary and not a required step in any grievance process or University policy, with the exception of mediation services which may be required by University policy.
IV. AUTHORITY & LIMITS OF THE OFFICE
The authority of the Office derives from the University administration as manifest by the endorsement of the NDSU Provost and Faculty Senate.
A. Authority of the Office
1. Initiating Informal Inquiries
The Office may inquire informally about any issue concerning the University that come to its attention after having received a specific complaint from an affected member of the University community. The purpose of such inquiry is in the spirit of resolving disputes, gathering relevant information, providing guidance to the visitor, and/or making recommendations to the University.
2. Access to Information
The Office may request access to information related to visitors' concerns from files and offices of the University. Campus individuals who are contacted by the Office with requests for information are expected to cooperate and, as much as possible, to provide appropriate information as requested. The Office will not request a department or individual to breach confidentiality. University departments are expected to respond with reasonable promptness to requests made by the Office.
3. Ending Involvement in Matters
The Office may discontinue providing service and disassociate from a matter at any time.
4. Discussions with Visitors and Others
The Office has the authority to discuss a range of options available to its visitors, including both informal and formal processes. The Office may make any recommendations it deems appropriate with regard to resolving problems or improving policies, rules, or procedures. However, the Office has no actual authority to impose remedies or sanctions or to enforce or change any policy, rule, or procedure.
B. Limitations on the Authority of the Office
1. Receiving Notice for the University
Communication that alleges violations of laws, regulations, or policies, such as sexual harassment, issues covered by whistleblower policy, or incidents are subject to reporting under the Clery Act. Although the Office may receive such allegations, it is not a "campus security authority" as defined in the Clery Act. If a visitor discloses such allegations and expresses a desire to make a formal report, the Office will refer the visitor to the appropriate office(s) for administrative or formal grievance processes. Acts of violence, child abuse, sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, or misconduct, and other matters addressed in Title IX, must be reported as required by University Policy and State and Federal Law.
2. Formal Processes and Investigations
The Office will not conduct formal investigations on behalf of the University or anyone else. It will only participate in the substance of any formal dispute processes, outside agency complaints or lawsuits, either on behalf of a visitor to the Office or on behalf of the University, if required by law.
4. Record Keeping
The Office will not create or maintain documents or records for the University about a visitor’s name or other identifying information. Notes and any other materials related to a matter will be maintained in a secure location and manner, and will be destroyed as soon as possible and in accordance with applicable records retention policies.
5. Advocacy for Parties
The Office will not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute, nor will it represent administration, employees, or visitors to the office.
6. Adjudication of Issues
The Office will not have authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change University policies or rules.
V. SUPPORT FOR USING THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDS
The University and its agents will not retaliate against individuals for the sole reason of consulting with the Office. The University community respects the mission of the Office, its ethics and responsibilities, and encourages the use of the services provided.