THE ART OF LISTENING
Ombudsman’s Office provides new way to voice concerns
A news story on the HigherEdJobs website in 2016 reported that approximately 40 percent of global universities had an Ombudsman. If your undergraduate institution wasn’t one of those, you may not have been familiar with the concept when OUM announced the establishment of its Office of the Ombudsman in October, led by Dr. Nicolette McGuire.
“The Ombudsman is an additional option for solving problems or resolving concerns, in addition to explaining existing procedures already in place. I listen to visitors (visitor is the profession’s preferred term for people who connect with the Ombudsman’s Office), provide counsel to resolve issues, help identify options, and make referrals when needed. I can also investigate and assist in solving a problem informally,” explains Dr. McGuire. The office is designed to support and improve the experience of all students, faculty, and staff, regarding any issue which affects their work or studies, she says.
Confidentiality is key
“The key concept is confidentiality. Basically, anyone may contact me, discuss concerns, and be helped — without those concerns being disclosed,” says Dr. McGuire.
When interacting with the Ombudsman, you may expect fair, equitable treatment, respect and trust, and freedom from retribution for bringing issues forward.
Dr. McGuire says that, now with a place to go for confidential help and guidance, many students are availing themselves of the services.
“If you simply are not sure where else to turn and want someone to listen to you and guide you, then you are invited to contact me. Listening and making sure a visitor feels heard is a very big part of the job,” says Dr. McGuire. “Some people just don’t feel comfortable speaking up at all, and I’m here for them, too. I’m happy to be that first person they try to talk to,” she adds.
The Ombudsman may help if you:
- Are in a conflict you haven’t been able to resolve.
- Would like coaching on having a difficult conversation or giving feedback.
- Need an impartial and confidential sounding board.
- Have a concern and are not sure which University policy applies to your situation.
- Want to discuss how a University policy or practice is implemented or would like to understand a process or possible outcomes before reporting a problem.
- Need information about appeal procedures and grounds for appeal, advice on organizing and presenting an appeal, or feedback on an appeal letter. (The Ombudsman does not represent students at appeal meetings.)
- Think a process, policy, or procedure has been unfairly applied. (Note that visitors seeking official policy exceptions may use the formal process through the Student Affairs Committee.)
- Have concerns with or want to improve academic performance; are experiencing academic or test-related stress. (Don’t forget your Academic Advisor and Clinical Mentor are available to you!)
- Have personal, family, or financial concerns, or stress related to being a medical student. (Note that students seeking information about their account, payment plan, or other official financial matters should contact the Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Andrew Betts.)
The university Ombudsman concept has an interesting history. The offices began to appear in the mid-1960s in North America in response to growing campus conflicts, many as a result of the Vietnam War, according to the International Ombudsman Association. The offices began spreading to Australia in the 1970s and to Europe and South America in the 1980s.
Contacting the Ombudsman
Dr. McGuire may be reached confidentially at email@example.com. She will be pleased to connect over email or by Zoom confidential appointment. Know that Zoom sessions are not recorded, nor are they calendared. When needed and with the expressed consent of the visitor, issues can be progressed to the Vice Chancellor for his attention.