Policy Statement on the Brandeis Ombuds Office
This policy serves to formally establish and clarify the functions and practices, including confidential status, of the Brandeis Ombuds office as it relates to its interactions with campus community members.
Application and Eligibility
The Ombuds office is available to all Brandeis students, faculty, staff, volunteers and affiliates. The Ombuds office is also available to any individual who has a concern about any student, faculty, staff, volunteer or affiliate of the University. This policy applies to the protections and processes offered by and to the Ombuds office between the Brandeis Ombuds staff and employees (faculty and staff), students and anyone who uses the Ombuds Office (herein referred to as “visitors”). This policy does not replace or limit any other university policies on confidentiality or prohibited release of information or other policies that may be triggered by conduct or relationships covered in this policy.
Brandeis University is committed to having a diverse community that is respectful of differences, and working through conflict at the earliest opportunity.
The office is one of the confidential resources on campus. The Ombuds staff practices in accordance with the professional organizational standards of the International Ombuds Association (IOA) (see below).
All communications with the Ombuds office are off-the-record and do not constitute notice to the institution. It is incumbent on all who use the Ombuds office to understand the protections offered so that all who visit the Ombuds Office can rely on these protections.
The Ombuds Office’s practice is to support the dignity, well-being, and safety of each person who visits the Office by providing a safe space to talk confidentially and off the record about difficult situations and offer conflict resolution support. The Ombuds Office's response and approach to visitors' inquiries is tailored to each situation. The goal of the Ombuds Office is to serve as an outlet to process any type of challenging situation, be a bridge to navigate campus resources, and to serve as a coach to help, support, and empower visitors. The Ombuds perform a variety of functions in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.
- Listen and provide a respectful and safe place for visitors to discuss issues;
- Help individuals to fully understand their concerns, then identify and consider appropriate options;
- Identify and explain University policies and processes;
- Make referrals to internal and external resources;
- Coach visitors on self-help techniques;
- Facilitate conversations individually, jointly or through separate meetings with those involved (shuttle diplomacy);
- Conduct informal conflict resolution through appropriate techniques including but not limited to:
- Small and large group facilitated dialogue
- Providing upward feedback and community insights based on quarterly/annual trends, shared community wide in published reports
- Implementing any other method appropriate and desired by the visitor that is within the standards of practice of the Ombuds Office
- The Ombuds do not maintain records or any information related to visitors. If any informal notes are taken, they are without attribution and are destroyed once a matter is closed.
Once an individual meets with an Ombuds, they may choose to give the Ombuds permission to take an action that reveals their identity. Unless otherwise agreed, the Ombuds hold all information and actions in confidence, so neither their identity nor any confidential communications with the Ombuds is revealed. The Ombuds will ask a visitor for permission prior to making any requested disclosure, and only when the Ombuds agree that it would be appropriate to do so. The exception to this is if a visitor shares information that the Ombuds determines presents an imminent risk of serious harm to the visitor or another individual. Under these circumstances the Ombuds will share information with appropriate individuals, based on the Ombuds’ assessment of the situation.
Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics
The Brandeis Ombuds Office adheres to the IOA Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. Through this policy, Brandeis University endorses this adherence.
The IOA Code of Ethics States:
“The ombudsman shall be truthful and act with integrity, shall foster respect for all members of the organization s/he or they serve, and shall promote procedural fairness in the content and administration of those organization's practices, processes, and policies.”
The following four fundamental ethical principles, as incorporated in the IOA Standards of Practice, define the Ombuds Office practice at Brandeis University:
Independence: The Ombuds is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization. The Ombuds Director will maintain their own budget, staff, and office practices. Administratively, the Ombuds Office arises out of the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) reporting to Senior VP and Director of ODEI. The Ombuds are independent in reporting and may go to the President, and/or Trustees, or any appropriate party or office if issues arise that need to be discussed and/or addressed without involvement of the ODEI and/or there is a conflict of interest with the ODEI Office or the Director.
Neutrality/Impartiality: The Ombuds, as a designated neutral, remains unaligned and impartial. The Ombuds does not engage in any situation which could create a conflict of interest.
Informality: The Ombuds, as an informal resource, has no authority to participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to any concern brought to the Ombuds' attention. The Ombuds has no authority to make policy or administrative or business decisions on behalf of the University and has no authority to receive notice of claims against the University (though the Ombuds can provide visitors with information on where such claims can be filed).
The Ombuds Office does not have significant responsibility for campus and student activities and is therefore not a designated ‘campus security authority' under the Clery Act and accompanying regulations. Also, as an independent, informal, and voluntary resource, the Ombuds Office is not an official that has authority to institute corrective action on behalf of the University on any Title VII, IX or any federal fund grant matter. Accordingly, the Ombuds Office is not a mandatory reporter under either the Clery Act, Title VII, Title IX, or any other federal, state, or municipal regulated reporting matter.
Confidentiality: The Ombuds holds all communications with visitors seeking assistance in strict confidence and does not disclose any communications to anyone that would identify a visitor unless, in the course of the confidential communications, the Ombuds is given permission by the visitor and the Ombuds agrees to do so. The only exceptions to confidentiality are where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm to the visitor or someone else, or where the Ombuds is required to provide information pursuant to a legally authorized subpoena or court order.
Confidential Status of the Ombuds
Brandeis University will make every reasonable effort to protect the confidential status of the Ombuds. The University will not ask the Ombuds to testify on the University’s behalf in internal or external proceedings with respect to confidential communications. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts does not legally establish the confidential status of the Ombuds, Brandeis University will use reasonable efforts to resist efforts to compel the Ombuds to disclose any and all confidential communications to the extent permitted by law.
To function effectively, the Brandeis Ombuds and their staff must maintain the confidentiality of communications with those who use the office. Communications with the Brandeis Ombuds and their staff are considered confidential. No person is required to engage the Ombuds Office, yet those who do engage with the Office, agree to the principles on which the Ombuds Office was established and will not call on the Ombuds to produce documents or testify with respect to confidential communications in internal or external proceedings. The Ombuds also may assert that communications are privileged, depending on the jurisdiction, with any such privilege held by the Ombuds Office and not the visitor. Accordingly, Ombuds will not answer questions about people with whom they may have spoken, disclose an individual’s name or specific issue, or otherwise disclose confidential communications with a visitor to anyone outside of the Ombuds Office unless compelled to do so by a legally authorized subpoena or court order.
The Ombuds Office will only provide information to university leaders and the entire community on trends, and patterns of issues so that they may be prevented from recurring or escalating. The Ombuds may serve as an information and communication resource, informal dispute resolution expert, and source of neutral recommendations for institutional change for the University. The Ombuds Office provides feedback and information to the University when they see trends, patterns, policies, or procedures that raise concerns or repeated issues. The Office is empowered to provide informal assistance only. Formal actions are managed by other Brandeis University officials.
The Ombuds office will periodically publish reports sharing information about the types of visitors, trends, and concerns that are shared with the office without any attribution to the individual, department, or area of the community where the concern arose, unless permission is granted by the visitor as set out in this Policy. Such reports will be shared on the Ombuds website and available to everyone in the Brandeis community.
Ombuds and Unions
Although the Ombuds can be helpful to Union and non-unionized staff with understanding policies and access to information and can be very useful in helping individuals, groups, and teams in resolving matters involving union members that are not contractual in nature, the Ombuds Office will not become involved in any matter covered by a union contract with the university or any terms and conditions of employment.
Brandeis University has no tolerance for retaliation against anyone who accesses the Ombuds Office. Anyone who engages in retaliatory conduct against a community member for accessing the Ombuds Office shall be subject to discipline.