An ombudsman is an independent, neutral third party who assists students, faculty, staff and administrators in resolving problems, concerns and complaints confidentially through informal means: counseling, negotiation, and mediation. At Columbia’s University Ombuds Office, we are a confidential resource for the Columbia community, available by phone or for office visits on two campuses: Morningside and CUMC.
How does the confidentiality work?
Conversations with our office are considered confidential. However, confidentiality cannot be promised if there is imminent risk of serious harm, threats to public safety, or if compelled by a court of law. Work with the Ombuds is both voluntary and confidential as it is guided by the principles of the International Ombudsman Association. Therefore in working with the Ombuds Officer, you agree that you won’t call on the Ombuds to testify regarding the confidential communications.
Will you do anything without my permission?
Except in extraordinary situations—specifically, the two exceptions to confidentiality described above-- the Ombuds Officer will never do anything without your permission. You will decide how to address your issues and how you want the Ombuds Officer to assist.
How is the Ombuds Office different from other offices on campus that address community member concerns?
Our process is informal and initiated by the visitors to the office. We emphasize developing strategies you can use before you decide it’s necessary to use one of Columbia’s formal administrative processes. Our Office does not make administrative decisions and does not have authority to change disciplinary action. If you aren’t sure where to take your concern, the Ombuds is a safe place to start. Working with us is off the record, which sometimes makes talking about problems a little less intimidating.
How does the Ombuds remain neutral?
The Ombuds Office operates under the Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsman Association. Impartiality is one of the key ethical principles for an ombuds officer. Impartiality, or neutrality, means that visitors to our office can expect that they will be treated even-handedly, that we are not advocates for the individual or for the University. The goal is to be fair and objective as advocates for fair processes and civility.
While the Ombuds Office is a University department that reports to the University President, the office’s description in its Office Charter allows the Ombuds officers to remain free from university interference when working to resolve your concern. They do not report information gained from individual visitors to the President, though they do discuss trends they observe on campus (while being careful to protect confidentiality).
What Concerns Are Brought by Faculty Visitors?
Faculty members have sought assistance with issues relating to appointments and hiring; housing; research/ownership of data; academic dishonesty; conflict with a student or post-doc; course assignments; departmental politics; conflicts with a colleague; disability issues; Faculty Code of Conduct; harassment; discrimination; promotion and compensation; and other concerns.
What Concerns Are Brought by Student Visitors?
Students are welcome to discuss grade disputes; student/instructor misunderstandings; thesis and dissertation concerns; housing; disciplinary matters; disability issues; harassment; discrimination; interpersonal issues; roommate conflicts; and other concerns.
What should I expect when I visit the Ombuds Office?
All meetings are scheduled for an hour or hour and a half, whether you end up requiring the full amount of time or not. An ombuds office staff member will spend a brief amount of time explaining their role then you are free to talk about your presenting concern(s). The ombuds officer will: provide a comfortable, confidential environment to air your problems, concerns or complaints; listen to your problem, concern or complaint; develop a list of options for resolving your problem, concern or complaint; provide answers to questions you have regarding a policy or procedure. You do not need to bring anything, but if you have documents (email exchanges, course documents, letters of discipline, performance evaluations, etc.) that you think are pertinent to your concern, you are welcome to bring them. We will return those documents back to you at the end of the meeting since the Ombuds Office does not keep records. When, or whether, you return to the office is entirely up to you.
Can the Ombuds Office give me legal advice?
The Ombuds Office will advise you of your rights within Columbia University’s structure but does not provide legal advice. The ombuds officers will not testify in any formal judicial or administrative hearing about concerns brought to their attention.
When should I contact the Ombuds Office?
Sooner is better than later. While no concern or conflict is too little or too big for us to help you with, the sooner you reach out for assistance with your problem, the more options you'll have to resolve it effectively. You can talk with us in confidence about any concern related to Columbia University. Contact us if: • You would like to talk confidentially about an issue or situation • You need help communicating with someone within the University • You are unsure of the policies or procedures that apply to your specific problem or issue • You would like to know what resources or options are available • You need an objective perspective on a problem • You want information about how to file a formal complaint, appeal, or grievance • You feel a policy or procedure is not being followed properly • You feel that you have been unfairly or inequitably treated • You are not sure where else to turn for help
What kind of records do you keep?
As a matter of policy, the Ombuds Office destroys all information regarding a particular matter when that matter is resolved or within one month of no activity. The Ombuds Office does not retain any information that would identify the individuals involved in a conflict, dispute or complaint. We do keep some statistical data about the categories of concerns visitors discuss, as well as some general demographic data which is aggregated.
What Are the Ombuds Officer’s Qualifications?
The staff of the Ombuds Office are members of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and conform to its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. The staff participates in the IOA organizational ombudsman training programs. The ombuds officers are all certificated and experienced mediators. All staff continue to take training courses in the areas of dispute resolution and mediation.
What Concerns Are Brought by Staff/Administrative Visitors?
Staff members are welcome to discuss issues relating to performance evaluations; dismissal and resignation; promotion and salary; conflict with colleagues and supervisors; perceived discrimination and harassment; work-life balance, ethical dilemmas, and other concerns.