University Ombuds Home

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I contact the University Faculty Ombuds?
What does the University Faculty Ombuds do?
What is the role of the Unit Faculty Ombuds?
What types of issues do the Unit and University Faculty Ombuds handle?
What If I don't want to use the Ombuds in my unit?
Who can use the Faculty Ombuds?
When should I go to the Office of the Ombuds?
Does using an Ombuds mean I can't file a formal grievance?
What can the Ombuds do?
What can the Ombuds not do?
Is the Ombuds my advocate?
What authority does the Ombuds have?
What about confidentiality?
Will the Ombuds help me in a grievance or lawsuit?
Can I remain anonymous?
Am I informing the University about my complaint by speaking with the Ombuds?
What kind of records does the Ombuds Office keep?
What else should I know about the Office?
How did the Unit/University Faculty Ombuds come into being at Michigan?
What does "ombudsman" or "ombuds" mean and what are the historical origins of the ombuds function?

How do I contact the University Faculty Ombuds?
You can phone or email the Ombuds (click here for contact information). The best way to contact the Ombuds, particularly on holidays or weekends, is by email, leaving an email address or phone number where you can be contacted. Because email is not certain to be a secure and confidential form of communication, if your concern is to have the highest level of confidentiality, you should communicate in person or by telephone. If using email, do not reveal any specific information in the email other than a way for the Ombuds to phone you in return. If confidentiality is not critical, you may contact the Ombuds in any manner and describe your concern or problem.
What is the role of the Unit Faculty Ombuds?
Unit Faculty Ombuds serve their specific college or school by providing confidential and impartial assistance that supports good faith efforts to resolve issues in a manner similar to that of the University Faculty Ombuds. The Ombuds work to protect the interests and rights of any faculty member from uncivil behavior, injustices or abuses of discretion, from unnecessary delay and complication in administration of rules and regulations, and from inconsistency, unresponsiveness, and discrimination at all levels of the university's operations and programs.
The Unit Faculty Ombuds positions exist to help increase the probability that satisfactory and suitable resolutions can be reached informally and to reduce the likelihood that difficult situations might lead to formal grievances. The Ombuds' work does not supersede regular university grievance or appeal procedures, but supplements and enhances them.
What types of issues do the Unit and University Faculty Ombuds handle?
Concerns that faculty ombuds may assist with could include (but are not limited to) uncivil behavior, bullying or harassment by colleagues, students or staff; whether proper procedures were followed for decisions concerning tenure, promotion, or salary; working conditions and general climate issues, academic freedom, or discriminatory behavior. Although the faculty ombuds do not have the power to change rules, regulations, policies, procedures or the behavior of others, they can advocate for just and fair treatment. They have an understanding of the current University policies and practices regarding acceptable behavior, promotion, tenure, salaries and grievance procedures.
What if I don't want to use the ombuds in my unit?
Because of supervisory, mentoring or other relationships, there will be times when some faculty members will feel more comfortable working with the University Faculty Ombuds. In such circumstances, faculty are welcome and encouraged to contact the University Faculty Ombuds.
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Who can use the Faculty Ombuds?
All University faculty including instructors, librarians, curators, research investigators, tenure track, research track and tenured assistant, associate and full professors, and emeriti faculty.
When should I contact the ombuds?
- When you want to discuss a sensitive question or issue
- When you are unsure of where to go or what options exist to solve a problem
- When you have a situation requiring negotiation or help in facilitating communication
- When you are unsure which policies, procedures, or regulations apply in your situation
- When you feel a policy, procedure, or regulation has been applied unfairly or erroneously
- When you have a concern about an office, a service, or a decision at the University
- When you have a conflict with colleagues, staff or students
- When you experience uncivil behavior or harassment
- When you have concerns about ethics or academic dishonesty
- When you have questions or concerns about appointment, promotion or hiring issues
- When you have questions or concerns about performance evaluations and discipline
Does using an ombuds mean I can't file a formal grievance?
Speaking with and exploring options with a Unit Faculty Ombuds in an academic unit or the University Faculty Ombuds does not preclude the use of formal grievance procedures and is currently a recommended first step in filing a grievance. See the Formal Grievance Procedures section in the Faculty Handbook and the current Model Faculty Appeal Procedures for Schools, Colleges, and Academic Units.
What can the Ombuds do?
- Listen to your questions and concerns
- Help you to identify and evaluate options
- Offer an impartial perspective
- Help you to deal with a problem
- Facilitate difficult conversations as an impartial third-party
- Help you to resolve a problem by coaching, by shuttle diplomacy or by mediation
- Make referrals to appropriate resources
- Recommend constructive change in University policy
- Make informal inquiries to gather relevant information
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What can the Ombuds not do?
- Provide legal advice
- Offer psychological counseling
- Make decisions or render judgments on issues
- Compel or order anyone to take any specific action
- Conduct formal investigations
- Participate in formal processes, including lawsuits or grievances
- "Take sides" or advocate for either party or for the University in a dispute
- Accept notice on behalf of the University
Is the Ombuds my advocate?
No. The Ombuds does not take sides in a dispute. The rights and interests of all parties are carefully considered with the aim of promoting a fair and civil process to resolve the issue.
What authority does the Ombuds have?
The Ombuds has 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. Although the Ombuds does not have the power to change University rules or policies, the Ombuds can make recommendations for change to those with the authority to implement them.
What about confidentiality?
The Ombuds' Office is firmly committed to maintaining the confidentiality of those who use our services. The Ombuds will not disclose any part of your communication unless in the course of your discussions with the Ombuds you give your explicit permission to disclose information. In those situations in which the Ombuds believes that talking with other individuals may help your situation, you will be asked for your permission before any disclosures are made.
Because confidentiality is so important to the Office, all communications with the Office are made with the understanding that they are confidential, off-the-record, and that no one from the Office will be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding to reveal confidential communications.
Case notes regarding issues brought to the Office are retained only until the matter is resolved as determined by the Office and then they are shredded.
The only exception to this confidentiality is when the Ombuds decides that an imminent threat of serious harm to any person exists. This determination is made at the sole discretion of the Ombuds. If you have particular concerns about confidentiality, please be sure to raise the issue when you meet with the Ombuds.
This confidentiality of the Ombuds cannot be "waived" by users of the Office (for example, a visitor should not expect an ombuds to testify in any formal proceeding) because the privilege of confidentiality belongs to the Office and not to the users of the Office. However, a visitor is free to disclose any information to anyone they choose.
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Will the Ombuds help me in a grievance or lawsuit?
No. Once a matter is in a formal process, including legal action, the Office does not have any involvement with the formal process. Because confidentiality is so important to the Office, all communications with the office are made with the understanding that they are confidential, off the record, and that no one from the Office will be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding to reveal confidential communications. The Office will maintain the confidentiality of all dealings and communications with the Office and will assert any and all legal protections to maintain that confidentiality. The Office reserves the right to uphold confidentiality even when the person using the services of the Office requests disclosure.
Can I remain anonymous?
Yes. You can call or meet with the Ombuds to discuss the issue without giving your name. The Ombuds will work with you to find a way to address your concern in a way that does not compromise your identity. However, this may limit the options available to you for resolution of your concern.
Am I informing the University about my complaint by speaking with the Ombuds?
No. Because of the confidential and informal problem-solving role of the Office, informing the Office in person or in writing about a concern does not constitute "notice" to the University that the problem exists, nor is speaking to the Office a step in any grievance process. Anyone who wants to "put the University on notice" may contact an administrator or invoke a formal grievance process. The Office can provide referral information about whom to contact, but the Office does not receive "notice" for the University about the existence of problems.
What kind of records does the Ombuds Office keep?
The Office does not keep records other than aggregate statistical summaries. The Office is not a place of notice or "record keeper" for the University. Case notes regarding issues brought to the Office are retained only until the matter is resolved as determined by the Office and then they are shredded.
The Office keeps aggregate statistics and periodically reports general problem areas to senior administrators. Data indicating general categories of users of the office and types of concerns may appear in our annual report. The data are strictly demographic and do not contain information that would identify individuals who have used the Office. The data may signal emerging issues, indicate trends, highlight vulnerable groups, or suggest areas of improvement.
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What else should I know about the Office?
The principles of confidentiality, impartiality, informality, and independence are absolute, non-negotiable, and belong to the Office of the Ombuds rather than the user of the Office. Anyone who uses our services cannot request us to breach any of these standards of practice.
Email is not a confidential medium for communication with the Ombuds. For this reason, when confidentiality is important, any important information that is to remain confidential should be communicated to the Ombuds either in person or by telephone.
All communication is "off-the-record" and does not constitute a step in any grievance process. Therefore, it is your responsibility to adhere to any existing timelines or deadlines in filing formal grievances or appealing decisions.
The services of the Office do not compromise or replace policies or procedures established under collective bargaining agreements.
The Ombuds has the right to discontinue providing service and disassociate from a matter at any time.
How did the Unit and University Faculty Ombuds come into being at Michigan?
In 1989, the Senate Assembly established a task force to review the faculty grievance procedures. The task force found that most disputes were settled by informal rather than formal methods. As a consequence, the task force recommended that the University develop an office of University Ombuds to which all faculty would have access. After consultation with the Provost, the decision was made to establish faculty ombuds positions in the 14 schools and colleges (Unit Faculty Ombuds) without existing programs, with the Faculty Senate Office serving as coordinator.
In 2003 the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Paul N. Courant, created the additional position of University Faculty Ombuds in response to SACUA's request. The University Faculty Ombuds works with the Unit Ombuds in each school and college of the University to facilitate resolution of faculty problems and complaints.
The Unit Faculty Ombuds in the schools and colleges are faculty members who have been elected or appointed. The Unit Ombuds assist within the schools and colleges of the University by providing information and counseling on the issue facing the individual. The Ombuds help to review and explore the various options available for handling concerns, problems and complaints.
What does "ombudsman" or "ombuds" mean, and what are the historical origins of the Ombuds?
(taken and modified from Wikipedia)
The origin of the word is found in Old Swedish umbuðsmann and the word umbuds man, meaning representative (with the word umbud/ombud meaning proxy, or someone who is authorized to act for someone else). The modern use of the term began with the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman instituted by the Swedish Riksdag in 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch.
Originally, ombudsmen (or ombuds) were state officials appointed by national rulers or governments to provide a check on government activity in the interests of the citizen, and to oversee the investigation of complaints of improper government activity against the citizen. More recently, many companies, universities, non-profit organizations and government agencies have established an ombuds office to serve internal employees, faculty and students, and/or other constituencies. These ombuds function independently of the institution, by reporting to the company president, CEO, board of directors, provost, chancellor or organization or agency head.
The major advantage of an ombuds is that he or she examines complaints from outside the formal administrative structure of the institution, thus avoiding the conflicts of interest inherent in self-policing. However, for the ombuds system to operate effectively the selection of an appropriate individual for the office and the cooperation of an effective official from within the apparatus of the institution is of great importance.
Persons who played a role similar to an ombuds may have flourished in China during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC), and in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The Roman Tribune had some similar roles, with power to veto acts that infringed upon the plebians.
In the Danish Law of Jutland from 1241 the term is umbozman and means a royal civil servant in a hundred (country subdivision). From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the Icelandic "umboðsmaður", the Norwegian "ombudsmann" and the Danish "ombudsmand". The modern use of the term began in Sweden, with the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman instituted by the Instrument of Government of 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch. The predecessor of the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman was the Office of Supreme Ombudsman, "Högste Ombudsmannen" which was established by the Swedish King, Charles XII in 1713. Charles XII was in exile in Turkey and needed a representative in Sweden to ensure that judges and civil servants acted in accordance with the laws and with their duties. If they did not do so, the Supreme Ombudsman had the right to prosecute them for negligence. In 1719 the Swedish Office of Supreme Ombudsman office became the Chancellor of Justice. One inspiration to the Supreme Ombudsman may have been the Turkish Diwan-al-Mazalim which appears to go back to the second Caliph, Umar (634-644) and the concept of Qadi al-Qadat. However, the current predecessor of ombudsman institutions, the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman, is based on the concept of separation of powers as developed by Montesquieu, which has a western origin and roots in the Enlightenment. The Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in 1809 by the Swedish Riksdag, as a parallel institution to the still-present Chancellor of Justice. The Parliamentary Ombudsman is the institution that the Scandinavian countries subsequently molded into its contemporary form, and which subsequently has been adopted in many types of organizations.
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