Office of the Ombudsperson


University Ombudsman

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Q&A and ​Additional Information 

Why should an educational institution have an ombuds office? 

  • It provides a user-friendly source of information about policies, rights and avenues of redress
  • it conveys the institutions commitment to being fair.
  • it promotes a constructive approach to conflict resolution.
  • It helps formal processes run more smoothly
  • it helps avoid long and costly litigation
  • it helps identify policy weaknesses and gaps in the system

What’s in a Name: Ombudsperson, Ombudsman, and Ombuds? [1]

The name “ombudsman” (om budz man) comes from Swedish and literally means “representative.” At the most fundamental level, an ombudsman is one who assists individuals and groups in the resolution of conflicts or concerns. There are a number of different titles or names for this position: “ombudsman,” “ombudsperson” or “ombuds” among others.

Ombudsmen work in all types of organizations, including government agencies, colleges and universities, corporations, hospitals and other medical facilities, and news organizations.

The word “Ombudsman” is Scandinavian and means “representative” or “proxy.”  The term is gender-neutral in origin and is used by the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) to communicate to the widest possible community. Variations of the term exist (i.e. ombuds, ombudsperson) and are common among those practicing in the ombudsman field[2]

The organizational ombudsman is defined as: “a designated neutral who is appointed or employed by an organization to facilitate the informal resolution of concerns of employees, managers, students and, sometimes, external clients of the organization.”[3]

The Organizational Ombudsman—Role and Function[4]
The primary duties of an organizational ombudsman are:

  1. to work with individuals and groups in an organization to explore and assist them in determining options to help resolve conflicts, problematic issues or concerns, and
  2. to bring systemic concerns to the attention of the organization for resolution.

An organizational ombudsman operates in a manner to preserve the confidentiality of those seeking services, maintains a neutral/impartial position with respect to the concerns raised, works at an informal level of the organizational system, and is independent of formal organizational structures.

How can an Organizational Ombudsman contribute to an organization? [5]

An Organizational Ombudsman can:

  1. "Humanize" an organization by providing constituents with safe and informal opportunities to be heard; assistance in identifying options for managing or resolving concerns; facilitation of communication between or among conflicting parties; conflict resolution skills training; and upward feedback to management about trends in conflicts, hot-button issues or other matters of import to organizational leaders (see Question 9 for more).
  2. Help organizations reduce costs related to conflict by resolving disputes informally and helping to avoid the waste of resources, time and energy of parties in formal grievance processes and litigation.
  3. Help keep top management abreast of new and changing trends within the organizational community.
  4. Help executives and managers avoid spending excessive time attempting to resolve conflicts.
  5. Refer individuals toward appropriate formal processes and resources within the organization.

Ombuds Processes [6]:

Variously described as an ombudsman, ombudsperson or ombuds, this independent person or office is charged with the responsibility to inquire into complaints regarding administrative injustice or maladministration in public and private organizations. It is worth noting that an ombuds’ role is somewhat similar to neutral evaluation combined with a third-party investigation.

The ombuds may be charged with a variety of responsibilities including fact-finding, investigation, conciliation, mediation, and the provision of advice and recommendations. In the public sector, the ombuds usually acts as an impartial investigator with wide powers of review into matters of administration.

The ombuds has no power to render a binding decision, even when a complaint is found to be justified. Nevertheless, the power of investigation with the right to bring to light cases of bureaucratic maladministration constitutes a powerful incentive for dispute resolution.

Collateral Necessities

  • Strategies to increase accessibility (outreach)
  • Preventative approaches:
    • Education of decision-makers
    • Education of constituents, stakeholders, the public
  • Policy review
  • Commentary on draft legislation

How does an Organizational Ombudsman differ from a lawyer?[7]

The Organizational Ombudsman’s role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is associated with more formal processes and the legal system.  An Organizational Ombudsman maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with visitors, while a lawyer must advocate for his or her client and generally uses adversarial approaches to resolve issues. Though some Organizational Ombudsmen may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, Ombudsmen do not provide legal advice.

[2], question 1.​
[3] citing: Wesley, Margo, The Complete Ombuds: A Spectrum of Resolution Services, CPER Journal No. 166 (June 2004).
[5], question 7.
[6] George W. Adams, Mediating Justice: Legal Dispute Negotiations (CCH Canadian Limited: Toronto, Ontario) p.317.
[7], question 5.