The Office of the Faculty Ombudsperson was established in the fall of 2013 at the recommendation of Seattle University (SU) Faculty. The Office supports a culture that is ethical and civil, and in which mutual understanding can be reached and differences resolved through respectful dialogue and fair processes. To afford faculty the greatest freedom in using its services, the office is an independent, confidential, impartial, and informal resource made available to all SU faculty members. Faculty seeking assistance from the office will be treated with dignity and respect and can expect individualized attention to their needs and concerns.
Except as described under “Confidentiality” herein, the Faculty Ombudsperson Office is an independent, confidential, neutral and informal resource for all faculty members of the SU Community. The Faculty Ombudsperson is a designated neutral or impartial facilitator whose major function is to provide confidential and informal guidance to the university’s faculty to assist them with their complaints, concerns and issues; to assist faculty in identifying appropriate offices, committees, and university rules and policies; and serve when appropriate as an informal mediator of early-stage complaints and to mediate as an impartial party. The Faculty Ombudsperson is not an advocate either for faculty or administration. The Faculty Ombudsperson assists faculty in identifying and evaluating options and solutions to problems and advocates for a fair and equitable process. The office supplements, but does not replace, existing formal grievance mechanisms at the university. While the ombudsperson is a confidential, neutral, informal and independent resource without authority, the ombuds office can make available information for formal reporting channels.
The Faculty Ombudsperson is a member of the International Ombudsman Association and follows its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which are available at: http://www.ombudsassociation.org/about-us/code-ethics
Independence is essential to the effective functioning of the Office of the Faculty Ombudsperson. The Faculty Ombudsperson shall be, and shall appear to be, free from interference in the legitimate performance of its duties. This independence is achieved primarily through reporting structure, neutrality and organizational recognition and respect for the office. To ensure this, the Faculty Ombudsperson is independent of existing university and administrative structures. The Faculty Ombudsperson reports to the CFO/Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs in a manner that is independent of ordinary line and staff structures. In addition, the Faculty Ombudsperson will have responsibility for managing the budget and operations of the office.
The Faculty Ombudsperson is required to remain neutral and will not take sides in any conflict, dispute or issue. The Faculty Ombudsperson does not make, change or set aside administrative or policy decisions for SU and does not adjudicate, arbitrate or serve as a witness in any administrative or legal proceedings with respect to confidential communications. Ombudspersons are designated as neutrals: they do not serve as anyone’s lawyer, advocate or representative, nor do they provide protection of legal rights. Their purpose is to seek a fair process for expressing concerns that may arise in the faculty community. The Faculty Ombudsperson is not authorized to receive notice of any claims against SU. Where giving notice of claims is necessary to resolve a problem or preserve a right, a faculty member must use one of the formal channels provided by the university rather than rely on communications with the Faculty Ombudsperson.
The Faculty Ombudsperson shall be a resource for informal approaches to dispute resolution. Use of the office of the Faculty Ombudsperson will be voluntary and not a required step in any grievance or policy. Although the Faculty Ombudsperson may make inquiries to assist a faculty member or to more fully understand an issue, the Faculty Ombudsperson does not conduct formal investigations on behalf of SU. The ombuds maintains no permanent records of confidential communications. Permanent records kept by the Faculty Ombudsperson include only non-confidential and statistical information. All other records are routinely destroyed at the discretion of the Faculty Ombudsperson. Statistical analyses and trend reports containing non-confidential information on the types of issues being handled may be provided to SU administration from time to time.
The Faculty Ombudsperson helps people who seek a confidential channel for discussing or addressing an issue of concern without fear of disclosure or retribution. Confidentiality is essential to the ombuds' function with certain exceptions. All conversations with the Faculty Ombudsperson are considered confidential and off-the-record. The IOA Standards of Practice assert that confidential communications with an ombuds are considered privileged, and to the extent that any such privilege is recognized, it is held by the ombuds and not the inquirer. The only exceptions to this confidentiality are where the Faculty Ombudsperson determines there to be an imminent risk of serious harm or disclosures of suspected abuse or neglect of a child or vulnerable adult, sexual misconduct or as otherwise may be required by law. The Faculty Ombudsperson also will not disclose confidential communications or the name of any individual who has visited the office unless, in the course of the inquirer’s discussion with the Faculty Ombudsperson, permission has been given by the inquirer.
As a matter of policy, SU will not call the Faculty Ombudsperson to disclose confidential communications or to serve as witness. Because the Faculty Ombudsperson is an office made available to SU faculty members as a purely voluntary and alternate channel of communication, those who choose to use the Faculty Ombudsperson will be deemed to have agreed to abide by the principles of neutrality, independence, informality, and confidentiality articulated above and in the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which are the bases on which the office has been made available to SU faculty members and not call the Faculty Ombudsperson to testify concerning confidential communications in any administrative, formal, or legal proceeding.