Charter of the UMUC Ombuds Office

I. Introduction

The Ombuds Office at University of Maryland University College was established in 2013 to provide informal dispute resolution to students, faculty, and staff, predicated on the principles of fairness and equity. The structure and practice of the office is built on independence, impartiality, confidentiality, and informality. In the spirit of this important function, this Charter defines the privileges and responsibilities of the Office of the Ombudsman.  

II. Office Mission

The mission of the office is to provide a confidential place for people to voice concerns, develop options, and solve problems informally. The Ombuds also provides information to university officials on general trends and patterns of complaints and concerns in an effort to prevent escalations or recurrences. 

Through its mission, the office helps further the University's strategic objectives within a culture that is ethical and civil and in which differences can be resolved and mutual understanding is created through respectful dialogue and a fair process. The Ombuds performs a variety of functions in carrying out the duties and responsibilities associated with this position. They include: listening and providing a respectful, "safe," and "humanized" place within the University for individuals to discuss problems; helping individuals to clarify concerns and develop options; explaining University policies and procedures; providing referrals to other offices; coaching visitors on how to help themselves; looking into problems by gathering data and the perspectives of others; engaging in shuttle diplomacy; conducting structured mediations or facilitating conversations; and other measures consistent with the mission of the Office.  

After meeting with the Ombuds, some visitors may give permission to take an action that would reveal their identity. Others, however, may request that the Ombuds not disclose information or take any action that might risk having their identity revealed. Except in very limited circumstances, as described in this Charter, the Ombuds will disclose identifiable information or concerns raised only with the permission of the visitor to the office. The privilege to confidentiality is waived in instances when there is an imminent risk of harm to one's self or another individual. The Ombuds may take any number of steps towards responsibly addressing concerns raised. However, the office is empowered to provide informal assistance only. Formal actions are the purview of other officers. 

III. Purpose and Scope of Services

The Ombuds Office provides confidential, impartial, independent and informal dispute resolution and mediation services. The office is available to faculty, staff, students, and UMUC community members, who seek assistance with matters brought to the attention of the Ombudsman. 

The Ombuds Office shall receive complaints, concerns or inquiries about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and/or broader systemic problems within the office's defined jurisdiction. In response, the Ombuds will listen, review matters received, make informal inquiries, offer options, make referrals, and facilitate resolutions independently and impartially. In addition, the Ombuds Office shall serve as an information and communication resource, consultant, dispute resolution service and catalyst for institutional change. 

The Ombuds Office supplements, but does not replace or substitute for formal, investigative or appeals processes made available by the University. The office functions to assist parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements in order to find fair and equitable resolutions to concerns that arise at the University. Use of the office is voluntary. The Ombuds Office also reports general trends of issues and provides feedback throughout the organization, and recommends systems change when appropriate without disclosing confidential information. 

IV. Principles of Practice

In addition to the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, there are four fundamental principles which define the Ombuds practice at University of Maryland University College: 

i. Confidentiality

Strict confidentiality is essential to the Ombuds function and helps create a safe place for visitors to voice concerns, evaluate issues, and identify options. 

The Ombuds does not disclose the identity of visitors to the office or the content of conversations unless permission has been given to do so or it is otherwise allowable under this section of the Charter. 

If a visitor has given permission to do so, the Ombuds may disclose personally identifiable information about the visitor to other offices or individuals whose help is necessary to explore or resolve a problem. 

The Ombuds confidentiality privilege belongs to the Ombuds Office and cannot be waived by visitors to the office. Thus, even with the permission of the complainant, the Ombuds will not disclose documents or testify, attend, or participate in formal proceedings. 

A visitor's confidential disclosure to the Ombuds is strictly off-the-record and does not constitute a formal report of wrongdoing. Thus, conversations with the Ombuds do not constitute notice to the University of any claims a visitor may have. Moreover, such conversations do not stop or extend any time limits by which notice of claims must be provided to the university.

The University will make every effort to protect the confidentiality of the Office. The University will not ask the Ombuds to testify on the University's behalf in internal or external proceedings, and will take appropriate steps to protect the Ombuds from subpoena by others. The only exception to confidentiality is where there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm or maintaining that confidentiality would result in the violation of a legal requirement or policy. 

ii. Independence

The Office functions outside existing administrative structures and reports directly to the Office of the President of University of Maryland University College for administrative and budgetary purposes.  

The Ombuds neither compels other offices to take specific action nor receives compulsory orders about how to approach a particular issue. 

The office complements but does not duplicate existing grievance procedures and internal compliance channels within the Offices of Human Resources, Fair Practices, or Legal Affairs. 

The Ombuds has no authority to establish, change, or set aside any University rule or policy, nor may the Ombuds override the decisions of University officials. 

The Ombuds has access to all university officials and records as needed to carry out the functions of the Office. The Ombuds takes all steps to avoid conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived.

iii. Impartiality/Neutrality

The Ombuds provides objective assessments of concerns brought to the Ombuds Office. 

As a neutral third-party, the Ombuds is an advocate for equity, fair process, and the fair administration of process. The Ombuds does not, however, take sides on behalf of any individual, cause, or dispute. 

The Ombuds takes into consideration the rights of all parties, as well as the welfare of the university and university community.

iv. Informality

The Ombuds provides informal, off-the record assistance only. 

The Ombuds maintains only anonymous, aggregate data. Formal records are not created and personally identifiable documents are not preserved. Informal notes may be temporarily created only insofar as they are necessary for case management.

The Ombuds has no authority to accept legal notice or make decisions on behalf of the University. For those wishing to go on-the-record, the Ombuds makes referrals to appropriate formal channels so that individuals may make informed choices about which process is best for them to pursue. 

The Ombuds may request data from and explore a concern with university officials. However, the Ombuds does not conduct formal investigations or participate in formal actions. The following are also outside the purview of the Office: adjudicating cases, acting as an advocate or witness in any case inside or outside the university; keeping case records for the university; assessing wrongdoing or innocence; determining sanctions; and making, changing, or setting aside any rule, policy, or administrative decision.

V.  Limitations

i. Receiving Notice for the University

Generally, communications, including allegations that may be perceived to be violations of laws, regulations or policies, to the Ombuds Office shall not constitute notice to the University. Even if the Ombuds become aware of such allegations, the Ombuds is not required to report it to the University. If a user of the Ombuds Office would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or wishes for information to be provided to the University, the Ombuds will provide that person with information so that the person may do so himself/herself. In extremely rare situations, the Ombuds Office may have a legal obligation to put the University on notice such as with reports of sexual harassment or child abuse. This will take place only when there is no other reasonable option. 

ii. Formal Processes and Investigations

The Ombuds Office shall not conduct formal investigations of any kind. The Ombuds Office provides an alternate channel for dispute resolution, and all use of Ombuds Office services shall be voluntary. Because confidentiality, neutrality and informality are critically important to the Ombuds Office, all communications with the office are made with the understanding that they are confidential, off-the-record, and that no one from the office will be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding to reveal confidential communications. 

iii. Record Keeping

The Ombuds shall not keep records for the University, and shall not create or hold documents or personally identifying records for the University about individual matters.

iv. Advocacy for Parties

The Ombuds shall not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute, nor shall the Ombuds represent management or visitors to the office. 

v. Adjudication of Issues

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

VI. Reporting

The Office of the Ombudsman functions independently with respect to case handling and issue management and reports to the Offices of the President for administrative and budgetary purposes. To fulfill its functions, the Office of the Ombudsman shall have a specific allocated budget, adequate space, and sufficient resources to meet operating needs and pursue continuing professional development.