Purpose of the Ombudsperson
The word “ombudsman” originated in Sweden and means “representative of the people.” The University of Nebraska Medical Center has established a team of ombudspersons to help students, residents, faculty, and staff resolve problems and to promote fair and equitable treatment for all members of the UNMC community. David Carver, Ph.D. is the designated ombudsperson for students and residents. Rather than taking sides in a dispute, the ombudsperson assists the complainant(s) in gathering accurate information and seeking non-adversarial solutions. Confidentiality is maintained regarding all student complaints or concerns. More specifically, the Ombudsperson services are:
- Confidential - no written records are kept, no private information is disclosed by the Ombudsperson except in cases of direct threats of physical harm to self or others;
- Informal - the ombudsperson is not an “office of notice” for filing formal complaints, grievances, or appeals and is not involved in formal dispute resolution or disciplinary processes;
- Independent - authority for the ombudsperson program is held in the Chancellor’s office and the ombudsperson reports trends or general problem areas (but no individual identifying information) to the Chancellor and/or the appropriate Vice Chancellor(s); and
- Neutral - the ombudsperson advocates for fair processes but does not take sides or serve as a spokesperson or advocate in formal disputes.
The student ombudsperson adheres closely to the professional standards of practice outlined by the International Ombudsman Association.
Functions of the Ombudsperson
Information and Referral Source -The ombudsperson is an information source on policies, procedures, and regulations that apply to students, staff, or faculty. In a complex organization like UNMC, it is often difficult to figure out where to go with an issue or concern. Policies and procedures can be confusing. The ombudsperson can answer the question “Where do I start?” by answering questions or referring the complainant to the appropriate person or office.
Facilitative Conversations -When a problem cannot be resolved at the referral level, the ombudsperson may act as an informal facilitator between parties in a dispute. The facilitative process encourages open communication and often produces a solution that both parties find acceptable. The ombudsperson may choose to meet directly with both parties in a dispute or more often will utilize “shuttle diplomacy” where the ombudsperson talks with each party individually. The ombudsperson does not speak with anyone else without the permission of the original complainant. The dispute may be between a student and a faculty member, two or more students, or student and an employee. If the dispute cannot be resolved through informal discussion, the ombudsperson may inform the complainant about formal “due process” grievance or appeal procedures as options. When formal processes are utilized, the likelihood of achieving a satisfactory, non-adversarial solution may be reduced. The ombudsperson will not serve as the advocate or the spokesperson for a student or employee during a formal grade appeal or grievance process.
Policy Recommendations -Ombudspersons gather facts and data on recurring problems experienced by students, faculty, or staff. They may recommend changes in policies, procedures, and organizational structures to promote greater fairness and equity. The Ombudsperson is independent of the regular UNMC chain-of-command and reports to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the Chancellor when describing trends or recommending policy changes. The ombudsperson protects the identity of individual complainants in making such reports or recommendations.
Consult the Student Ombudsperson . . .
- If you are unsure about which UNMC policies, procedures, or regulations apply in your situation.
- If you have a specific problem or complaint that you have not been able to address or resolve through regular UNMC administrative channels (or if you are unclear about where to start).
- If you need help in deciding whether to appeal an evaluation, a grade, or an administrative decision.
- If you feel that you have been treated unfairly and would like an objective opinion about the matter.
- If you believe you may have experienced discrimination based on sex, ethnic origin, race, religious beliefs, or other personal characteristics. The ombudsperson is not an “office of notice” for filing formal complaints related to sexual harassment or discrimination, but will direct you to the appropriate administrator if you decide to file a complaint.
- If you have a problem that requires a neutral third party to facilitate communication and understanding between you and another person or group.
- If you think that a policy or procedure has been applied to you unfairly or erroneously and you would like to identify your options.
- Students and residents can get more information about the Ombudsperson service by calling Pat Oberlander at 402-559-2491 or by contacting Dr. David Carver by phone at 402-559-7276 or by email.