The Ombuds Concept

The word ombudsman (OM-buds-man) comes from Sweden, where it was first used in 1809 to designate a public official who was appointed to investigate citizens' complaints against government agencies. Today, ombuds in many different kinds of organizations provide information, options, and impartial review for anyone within an organization, and they offer feedback and recommendations for system change to senior management.

History of the Columbia University Ombuds Office

The Columbia University Ombuds Office was established in 1991 on the recommendation of the President's Committee for the Promotion of Mutual Understanding and Civility to provide a resource for all those who felt they had been treated disrespectfully. The Ombuds Office takes concerns about discrimination and harassment very seriously, and can offer options for informal resolutions and make referrals for formal investigation in other offices. However, the Ombuds Office was also established to address situations that involve insensitivity, unfairness, or miscommunication that may not necessarily constitute harassment or discrimination.

Authority of the Ombuds Office

We have the authority to contact senior officers of the University, to gather information in the course of looking into a problem, to mediate or negotiate settlements to disputes, to bring concerns to the attention of those in authority, and to attempt to expedite administrative processes. Also, although we do not have the power to change University rules or policies, we can make recommendations for change to those with the authority to implement them. Often our recommendations are based on perceived trends. While we do not keep records of specific complaints or problems, we do keep track of general statistical patterns and bring concerns to the attention to those with the authority to make institutional improvements. These data may signal emerging issues, indicate new trends, highlight vulnerable groups of students or employees, or suggest areas of improvement. Our data collection never includes details that could identify individuals' confidential information.

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