Authorization of Faculty Ombuds Services

In September 2010, Provost Edward S. Macias, with full authorization of Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, announced the creation of an Office of the Ombuds, a new resource for faculty on the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

Currently a pilot program, this office serves faculty members with appointments on the Danforth Campus. Susan Frelich Appleton, the Lemma Barkeloo & Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law, served as primary ombuds for two years, and James Davis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, agreed to serve as her associate during the same period. After evaluation of the pilot program, the ombuds office might expand to serve other constituencies within the university.

The Office of the Ombuds is charged with:

  • Promising and maintaining confidentiality (unless there is imminent risk of serious physical harm or a court has ordered disclosure of information, despite the university’s effort to maintain the confidentiality of communications with the ombuds office) and providing neutral, informal, and independent conflict management and dispute resolution services for faculty members with appointments on the Danforth Campus;
  • Following the Standards of Practice and Ethical Principles of the International Ombudsman Association; and
  • Obtaining legal advice from the Office of Vice Chancellor and General Counsel about how best to protect the confidentiality of communications with the ombuds office and for general legal advice and, when necessary in the professional judgment of the ombuds, consulting independent counsel regarding issues related to the role and operation of the ombuds’ office.

In carrying out its mission, the Office of the Ombuds will provide the following functions:

  • Consult with faculty members with appointments on the Danforth Campus who voluntarily seek information and/or informal assistance in the management or resolution of university-related conflicts, disputes or complaints;
  • Inform such faculty members who visit the ombuds office (“visitors”) about informal, formal and/or administrative options for managing and resolving conflicts, complaints and disputes;
  • Provide information about relevant policies and procedures;
  • Provide informal mediation and/or facilitation services or information about how to obtain these services elsewhere;
  • Make appropriate referrals to other offices, services, departments or procedures;
  • Explain both orally and in writing the impartial, confidential, informal and independent operation of the ombuds office to all visitors seeking assistance; and
  • Identify and share with university administrators and with the Faculty Senate Council data showing patterns of issues, concerns or complaints, and any appropriate recommendations for addressing them.

In carrying out its mission, the Office of the Ombuds is not authorized to:

  • Make, change or set aside a law, policy or administrative decision;
  • Make binding decisions or determine rights;
  • Share confidential information with anyone, including the university administration and members of the Office of Vice Chancellor and General Counsel unless, in the professional judgment of the ombuds, there is an imminent risk of serious physical harm; a court orders disclosure of information, despite the university’s effort to maintain the confidentiality of communications with the ombuds office;  or the visitor has given permission to do so;
  • Compel anyone to implement its recommendations;
  • Conduct formal investigations for purposes of administrative or judicial proceedings;
  • Give legal advice;
  • Receive official notice for the university about issues (other than complaints about the ombuds office) or require any persons at the university to take any action to address issues brought to the attention of the ombuds;
  • Make administrative decisions for university administrators (other than those affecting the operation of the ombuds office);
  • Determine the “guilt” or “innocence” of anyone accused of wrongdoing;
  • Disclose documents or provide testimony in formal grievance, disciplinary proceedings or litigation except to explain the role of the office or provide publicly available information (unless ordered to do so by a judge);
  • Maintain formal written case records identifying visitors to the office;
  • Assist individuals with an issue that is currently pending in a formal forum (e.g., appeal of a tenure denial before the Advisory Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom) unless all parties and the presiding officer in that action explicitly consent to suspend the formal process;
  • Assist individuals other than faculty members with appointments on the Danforth Campus;
  • Take on conflicting administrative (non-ombuds) responsibilities within the institution (e.g., investigations).