FAQS

(With many thanks to the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona)

What does the word 'ombudsperson' mean?

Courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:

Main Entry: om•buds•per•son
Pronunciation: 'äm-"budz-, 'om-'budz-, äm-'budz-,
Function: noun
Etymology: Swedish, literally, representative, from Old Norse "umbothsmathr," from "umboth" (commission) + "mathr" (man)
One that investigates reported complaints (as from students or consumers), reports findings, and helps to achieve equitable settlements.

What is an ombudsperson?

An ombudsperson is a neutral person who provides advice and information and works in a confidential, informal way to achieve conflict resolution.

Who can call an ombudsperson?

Any member of the University of Iowa community, including students, staff and faculty, or anyone else with a concern about the university, can call the Office of the Ombudsperson for assistance.

Can I work with both Ombudspersons, rather than just one, or switch from seeing one Ombudsperson to seeing the other?

Generally, a visitor only works with one of the Ombudspersons.  Exceptions can be made in individual cases.  If a visitor has worked with one of us and wishes to meet with the other Ombudsperson, we ask that the visitor discuss this with either of us.

Do you take action based on anonymous complaints?

No, since we cannot determine what course of action to take without discussing the situation with the person involved.  We also want to emphasize that, given the confidentiality of our office, there is no need for anonymity.

Do you charge anything for your services?

All of the services of the Office of the Ombudsperson are free.

Do I have to use vacation time to visit your office?

No. Staff members can request time to visit the Office of the Ombudsperson during working hours for the first appointment. For subsequent appointments, employees may request additional release time through the Office of the Ombudsperson. Employees who prefer not to notify their supervisors of a visit to the Ombudsperson's Office may make special arrangements for noon or after-hours appointments or may use vacation time for appointments.

Are all conversations with an ombudsperson confidential?

Conversations with the ombudsperson are confidential, and the ombudsperson will not disclose any part of your conversation without your permission, with two exceptions. If an ombudsperson learns of the possibility of physical harm to anyone, the ombudsperson will report that information to an appropriate authority or agency. In addition, in very rare cases a court may order release of information shared with an ombudsperson.

Can anyone retaliate against me for coming to the Office of the Ombudsperson?

No.  The University of Iowa Operations Manual provides protection for staff, faculty and students who contact the Office of the Ombudsperson for assistance.  See Job Security and Protection of Students

Will you do anything without my permission?

Except in extraordinary situations—specifically, the two exceptions to confidentiality described above-- the ombudsperson will never do anything without your permission. You will decide how to resolve your conflict and how you want the ombudsperson to help.

What about sexual harassment or misconduct?

The ombudsperson will listen to your concerns and help you understand your options, including reporting options.

Can the ombudsperson give me legal advice?

The ombudsperson office cannot provide legal advice. The ombudsperson will assist in identifying University procedures or policies and can help you evaluate options.

Will the ombudsperson be my spokesperson and represent me?

No. The ombudspersons are neutral, impartial third parties. They do not advocate for either side and do not represent individuals. They strive for fairness and help people reach mutually satisfactory agreements.

What if I want a situation put “on the record”?

The Office of the Ombudsperson cannot keep a formal record of a problem or complaint, because of confidentiality and informality requirements. In addition, the Office of the Ombudsperson is not an office "of record," and speaking to an ombudsperson does not constitute legal notice to the University that a problem exists. The ombudsperson does not keep files on visitors and does not perform formal investigations or participate in formal procedures. If a matter becomes the subject of a formal grievance or legal action, an ombudsperson will not testify or participate in any way. However, the ombudsperson can help you identify offices that will keep a formal record of a situation.

How can the ombudsperson really be neutral, when they are university employees?

The ombudspersons are independent of all other offices on campus when they are serving in their role as an ombudsperson. While the Office of the Ombudsperson is a University department that reports to the University President, the office’s description in the Operations Manual allows the ombudspersons 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). The ombudspersons are neutral and do not represent your interests or the university's interest; they help everyone involved find a fair resolution.

What if the informal process doesn't work?

You are not precluded from pursuing formal remedies, and the ombudsperson will refer you to your formal options.

Does contact with the Office really help?

More than 80 percent of visitors to the Office of the Ombudsperson report being very satisfied or satisfied with the services of the office.