Office Charter

Boston University Office of the Ombuds Charter

The Office of the Ombuds provides assistance in resolving problems and conflicts.  It is an independent, impartial, informal, and confidential resource available to all members of the Boston University community.

Chartered in fall 2009 at the recommendation of the Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion  the Office is staffed by one or more professional Ombuds who act as the University’s designated third-party neutral, and who practice in accordance to accepted professional standards. See the report of the Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion here.

Office Mission

The mission of the Office is to provide a confidential place for people to voice concerns, develop options, and problem-solve. The Ombuds also provides information to university officials on general trends and patterns of complaints so that problems may be prevented from escalating or recurring.

Through its mission, the Office helps further the University’s strategic objectives within a culture that is ethical and civil, and in which differences can be resolved and mutual understanding created through respectful dialogue and fair process.

The Ombuds performs a variety of functions in carrying out his/her duties and responsibilities.  They include: listening and providing a respectful, “safe,” and “humanized” place within the University for individuals to discuss problems; helping individuals to clarify concerns and develop options; explaining University policies and procedures; providing referrals to other offices; coaching visitors on how to help themselves; looking into problems by gathering data and the perspectives of others; engaging in shuttle diplomacy; conducting structured mediations or facilitating conversations; and other measures consistent with the mission of the Office.

After meeting with the Ombuds, some visitors may give permission to take an action that would reveal their identity.  Others, however, may request that the Ombuds not disclose information or take any action that might risk having their identity revealed.  Except in very limited circumstances,  the ombuds will disclose identifiable information or concerns raised only with the permission of the visitor to the office.

The Ombuds may take any number of steps towards responsibly addressing concerns raised.  However, the Office is empowered to provide informal assistance only.  Formal actions are the purview of other officers.

Principles of Practice

In addition to the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, there are four fundamental principles which define ombuds practice at Boston University:

i.            Confidentiality.

  • Strict confidentiality is essential to the ombuds function and helps create a safe place for visitors to voice concerns, evaluate issues, and identify options.
  • The ombuds does not disclose the identity of visitors to the office or the content of conversations unless permission has been given to do so.
  • If a visitor has given permission to do so, the ombuds may disclose information to other offices or individuals whose help is necessary to explore or resolve a problem.
  • The ombuds confidentiality privilege belongs to the ombuds office and cannot be waived by visitors to the office. Thus, even with the permission of the complainant, the ombuds will not disclose documents, or testify, attend, or participate in formal proceedings.
  • A visitor’s confidential disclosure to the ombuds is strictly off-the-record and does not constitute a formal report of wrongdoing. Thus, conversations with the ombuds do not constitute notice to the University of any claims a visitor may have.  Moreover, such conversations do not toll or extend any time limits by which notice of claims must be provided to the university.
  • The University will make every effort to protect the confidentiality of the Office.  The University will not ask the Ombuds to testify on the University’s behalf in internal or external proceedings, and will take appropriate steps to protect the Ombuds from subpoena by others.
  • The only exception to confidentiality is where there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm.

ii.            Independence.

  • The Office functions outside existing administrative structures and reports directly to the President of Boston University for administrative and budgetary purposes.
  • The Ombuds neither compels other offices to take specific action nor receives compulsory orders about how to approach a particular issue.
  • The Office complements but does not duplicate existing grievance procedures and compliance channels such as EthicsPoint, line-management, or the offices of Human Resources, Equal Opportunity, Judicial Affairs, Internal Audit, Boston University Police, or Research Compliance.
  • The Ombuds has no authority to establish, change, or set aside any University rule or policy, nor may the ombuds override the decisions of University officials.
  • The ombuds has access to all university officials and records as needed to carry out the functions of the Office.
  • The Ombuds takes all steps to avoid conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived.

iii.            Impartiality/Neutrality.

  • The Ombuds provides objective assessments of concerns brought to the ombuds office.
  •  As a third-party neutral, the Ombuds is an advocate for equity, fair process, and the fair administration of process.  The Ombuds does not, however, take sides on behalf of any individual, cause, or dispute.
  • The Ombuds takes into consideration the rights of all parties, as well as the welfare of the university and university community.

iv.            Informality.

  • The Ombuds provides informal, off-the record assistance only.
  • The ombuds maintains only anonymous, aggregate data.   Formal records are not created, nor are personally identifiable documents preserved.  Informal notes may be temporarily created only insofar as they are necessary for case management.
  • The Ombuds has no authority to accept legal notice or make decisions on behalf of the University.  For those wishing to go on-record, the Ombuds makes referrals to appropriate formal channels so that individuals may make informed choices about which process is best for them to pursue.
  • The Ombuds may request data from and explore a concern with university officials.  However, the ombuds does not conduct formal investigations or participate in formal actions.  The following are also outside the purview of the Office: adjudicating cases, acting as an advocate or witness in any case inside or outside the university;  keeping case records for the university; assessing wrongdoing or innocence; determining sanctions; and making, changing, or setting aside any rule, policy, or administrative decision.