Principles of Practice
The practice of confidentiality is at the heart of the ombuds function. It allows the Office to be a safe place for off-the-record conversations, and it means that ombuds staff will not disclose names or identifiable information about individuals who have contacted the Office unless permission to do so has been given during the course of the confidential communication. The only exception to confidentiality is where the ombuds determines there is an imminent risk of serious harm.
The Office is considered independent. Ombuds are not agents of notice and do not have decision-making authority for Boston University. Also, for purposes of budget and administration, the Office reports to the president of the university, and is situated outside of the University’s normal administrative structure. This reporting structure allows the ombuds to perform their duties with an appropriate level of autonomy in determining when and how to raise concerns, ask questions, or look into problems. As important, the reporting line ensures that ombuds are expected to and can maintain confidentiality.
As third-party neutrals, ombuds perform their role with objectivity. Ombuds do not advocate on behalf of any individual or pursue win/lose outcomes in the style of an attorney, union steward, or those who champion the cause of another. Rather, it is the ombuds’ responsibility to use their professional judgment and skill to advocate for equity, fair process, and the fair administration of process. Impartiality does not mean ombuds should disengage from situations simply because they involve differing viewpoints or interpretations. Indeed, ombuds may raise questions when there appear to be obstacles to fairness and equity.
The practice of “informality” helps operationalize ombuds confidentiality. Because conversations with the Ombuds are considered informal and off-the-record, ombuds do not participate in formal investigations, grievances, or disciplinary procedures. Those practices are on the record and are thus the purview of other offices. The ombuds can, however, help look into possible procedural irregularities in grievance proceedings, and identify appropriate resources for anyone wishing to pursue a formal action.