This is the policy for an Ombudsperson Council for faculty and staff issues, The term "Ombudsperson Council" refers to the general ISU Ombudsperson Council or the group of appointed Ombudspersons, while the term "Ombudsperson" refers to a specific person assigned to a particular inquiry or case.
- Ombudspersons have the authority to act as designated neutral and impartial dispute resolution practitioners who will provide informal assistance to the university community regarding faculty and staff issues. Disputes involving students should be referred to the Student Conduct and Community Responsibilities Office in Student Affairs.
- Ombudspersons will not make binding decisions, mandate policies, or formally adjudicate issues for any individual or for the institution.
- The Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost (Provost), in consultation with the Academic Senate, will establish processes for the selection, operations, and oversight of Ombudspersons.
Membership and Appointment Procedures
The Council will consist of three (3) members. When an inquiry is made, the Council will consult and decide which one from among them (with mutual agreement of the inquirer) will be assigned to that inquiry. The Council will meet on a regular basis to maintain a relationship between the faculty and at-large staff members.
The Ombudsperson Council shall consist of two (2) full-time tenured faculty members and one (1) at-large full-time staff member. The faculty members shall be from two different Colleges. The importance of drawing from different Colleges for the faculty representatives is to assure that for any particular inquiry or case, an Ombudsperson could be assigned who is not a member of the College in which the inquirer or case originates. Members of the Academic Freedom, Ethics, and Grievance Committee, and current members of the Academic Senate shall not be eligible for appointment to the Ombudsperson Council. The at-large staff member shall be a full-time non-faculty member with broad administrative knowledge and an understanding of Human Resources policies and procedures. Department Chairs/School Directors, Assistant/Associate Department Chairs/School Directors, Deans, Assistant/Associate Deans, General Counsel, Associate University Counsel, and Assistant/Associate Vice Presidents shall not be eligible for appointment to the Ombudsperson Council.
Discovery of faculty members for the Ombudsperson Council will be the responsibility of the Provost in consultation with the President and College Deans. The Provost also will invite faculty to volunteer for the ombudsperson position through the External Committee Volunteer form distributed by the Academic Senate to all faculty. The pool of candidates created through these two processes will be narrowed each year to a final list of nominees fitting the eligibility criteria for the open seat(s) on the Council. Candidates not eligible for the open seat(s) in any particular year may choose to put their name forward in a subsequent year for which they are eligible. Each of the nominees in the final list of nominees will be affirmed or vetoed by a vote of the Faculty Caucus. After considering the results of these votes and performing vetting to confirm that the nominees possess the appropriate skill set, the Provost will choose members for the Council from the faculty nominees affirmed by the Faculty Caucus. When vacancies occur, the Provost shall select a replacement from within the available pool of affirmed faculty nominees. If there are no eligible nominees for the open seat(s) when a vacancy occurs, the Provost will follow the process described above.
The President, the Provost, and/or other appropriate unit supervisors shall also invite staff members to volunteer for the ombudsperson position through the vetting of staff nominees from the Administrative/Professional (A/P) Council and the Civil Service (CS) Council. The pool of staff member candidates will be narrowed each year to a final list of nominees fitting the eligibility criteria for the open seat(s) on the Ombudsperson Council. Each of the A/P staff nominees in the final list of A/P nominees will be affirmed or vetoed by a vote of the A/P Council. Each of the CS staff nominees in the final list of CS nominees will be affirmed or vetoed by a vote of the CS Council. After considering the results of these votes and performing vetting to confirm that the nominees possess the appropriate skill set, the Provost (in consultation with the Vice President(s) for any other divisions represented by the nominees) will choose a member for the Ombudsperson Council from the staff member nominees affirmed by the A/P Council and the CS Council. When a vacancy occurs, the Provost shall select a replacement from within the available pool of affirmed staff nominees. If there are no eligible nominees for the open seat when a vacancy occurs, the Provost will follow the process described above.
Appointments to the Ombudsperson Council shall be for three-year terms. No faculty or staff may serve for more than two consecutive terms on the Ombudsperson Council. Members on the Council who are on sabbatical leave or any other leaves that are longer than three (3) months shall vacate their position in the Council and a different member shall be appointed following the processes above.
Members of the Council shall consult with their unit supervisors for appropriate workload modifications to perform duties under the Ombudsperson Council.
All members of the Ombudsperson Council will complete an introductory education seminar on the Ombudsperson policies, philosophy, and ethics pertaining to the Ombudsperson process. There are a number of resources, including off-campus seminars and web-based seminars, available through the International Ombudsperson Association (IOA). The Ombudsperson Council will maintain a permanent affiliating membership in the IOA.
The Ombudsperson Council will submit an annual report to the Faculty Affairs Committee of the Academic Senate. This annual report shall 1) outline the number of cases, 2) report the amount of time allocated for Ombudsperson activities both individually and as a group, and 3) provide recommendations for future actions. The Provost will also receive a copy of the annual report. This annual report will allow the Academic Senate to engage in on-going review of the success of the policy. Additionally, the Academic Senate will monitor "appropriate compensation" and the Faculty Affairs Committee will recommend to the Academic Senate the number of Council members necessary to meet the demand for services. The number of the Ombudsperson Council members shall not be reduced but may be enlarged, when necessary, while maintaining a minimum 2-to-1 faculty-to-staff member composition.
Code of Ethics for the Ombudsperson Council
The ISU Ombudsperson Council is dedicated to excellence in the practice of Ombudsperson work. Based on the traditions and values of Ombudsperson practice, the ISU Ombudsperson Council Code of Ethics reflects a commitment to promote ethical conduct in the performance of the Ombudsperson role and to maintain the integrity of the Ombudsperson profession. The Ombudsperson shall be truthful and act with integrity, shall foster respect for all members of the ISU community, and shall promote procedural fairness in the content and administration of the practices, processes, and policies of the ISU community.
The Ombudsperson is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization.
Neutrality and Impartiality
The Ombudsperson, as a designated neutral, must remain unaligned and impartial. The Ombudsperson must not engage in any situation which could create a conflict of interest.
The Ombudsperson must hold all communications with those seeking assistance in confidence and must not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so and/or where required by law. The only exceptions to this confidentiality are where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm and/or where required by law.
The Ombudsperson, as an informal resource, must not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to their attention and must not function as an advocate. The Ombudsperson will not have the power to reverse decisions made or actions taken by the normally constituted authorities of the University.
The ISU Ombudsperson Council Code of Ethics is adapted from the Code of Ethics formulated by the International Ombudsperson Association (https://www.ombudsassociation.org/standards-of-practice-code-of-ethics).
Standards of Practice for the Ombudsperson Council
The following section outlines the suggested standards of practice for the Ombudsperson Council at Illinois State University, focusing on the areas of Independence, Neutrality/Impartiality, Confidentiality, and Informality. The ISU Ombudsperson Council Standards of Practice is adapted from the Standards of Practice formulated by the International Ombudsperson Association (https://www.ombudsassociation.org/standards-of-practice-code-of-ethics).
- The Ombudsperson Council and the Ombudspersons are independent from other organizational entities.
- The Ombudsperson Council shall report directly to the Office of the Provost in a manner independent of ordinary line and staff functions.
- The Ombudsperson, in the role of facilitator, shall be able to function independently from control, limitation, or interference imposed by any official in the entity.
- The Ombudsperson shall be protected from retaliation by any person who may be the subject of a complaint or inquiry pursuant to Policy 1.15 Whistleblower Policy.
- Members of the Ombudsperson Council must remain eligible for the role and shall have a set and renewable term, and are removable for neglect of duty, misconduct, or ineffectiveness, should be removed only by means of a fair process and procedure. The process may be initiated by the Provost or the majority of the Ombudsperson Council for any Ombudsperson; by the Faculty Caucus for a faculty Ombudsperson; by the A/P Council for an Administrative/Professional staff Ombudsperson; or by the CS Council for a Civil Service staff Ombudsperson. A faculty member can be removed only after the Faculty Caucus rescinds its prior endorsement of a faculty Ombudsperson. A staff member can be removed only after the A/P Council for an Ombudsperson who holds an Administrative/Professional position, or after the CS Council for an Ombudsperson who holds a Civil Service position, rescinds its prior endorsement of a staff Ombudsperson. In rare circumstances, an Ombudsperson may be suspended from their duties while an egregious issue is being reviewed and until a final decision is made.
- Members of the Ombudsperson Council shall not share and shall not be required to share privileged communications from members of the university community seeking its assistance with the Office of the Provost without the express written permission of the individuals concerned in the communication.
- The Ombudsperson holds no other position within the organization which might give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Nutrality and Impartiality
- The Ombudsperson is neutral, impartial, and unaligned.
- The Ombudsperson strives for impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues. The Ombudsperson advocates for fair and equitably administered processes and does not advocate on behalf of any individual within the organization.
- All faculty and staff served by the Ombudsperson may voluntarily seek services from the Ombudsperson and will be treated with respect and dignity. The Ombudsperson shall assure access impartially, including to people with disabilities, people who need language interpreters, or people whose work hours require flexibility in scheduling appointment times.
- The organization shall assure that all faculty and staff members of the organization have the right to consult with the Ombudsperson, and retaliation for exercising that right will not be tolerated.
- The Ombudsperson shall not report to nor be structurally affiliated with any compliance function of the organization.
- The Ombudsperson shall not be aligned with any formal or informal associations within the organization in a way that might create actual or perceived conflicts of interest for the Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson should have no personal interest or stake in, and incur no gain or loss from, the outcome of an issue.
- The faculty and staff Ombudspersons should not participate in formal management functions or serve in any other role that poses an actual conflict of interest or creates the perception of one.
- The Ombudsperson should not provide Ombudsperson services to people whom the Ombudsperson—in the other role—serves, manages, reports to, teaches, advises, or evaluates, in order to avoid partiality or perceptions of conflict of interest.
- The Ombudsperson should provide Ombudsperson services in a neutral location.
- The Ombudsperson has a responsibility to consider the legitimate concerns and interests of all individuals affected by the matter under consideration.
- The Ombudsperson helps facilitate discussion and helps identify the best options.
- The Ombudsperson should help all parties explore and assess an appropriate range of responsible options, from the very informal to the most formal. The Ombudsperson should never provide legal advice. The Ombudsperson may consult with the University's General Counsel, as necessary, but may not share privileged communications without the express written permission of the individuals concerned in the communication, unless the communication is deemed required to be shared by law.
- The Ombudsperson makes clear that consultation with the Ombudsperson does not require follow through with the Ombudsperson process, nor preclude a party's right to go to grievance.
- The Ombudsperson holds all communications with those seeking assistance in confidence and takes all reasonable steps to safeguard confidentiality.
- The Ombudsperson does not reveal, and must not be required to reveal, the identity of any individual contacting the Ombudsperson Council.
- The Ombudsperson does not reveal information provided in confidence that could lead to the identification of any individual contacting the Ombudsperson Council, without that individual's express written permission, unless such disclosure is required by law.
- The Ombudsperson takes specific action related to an individual's issue only with the individual's express permission. In addition, the Ombudsperson has responsibility to maintain in confidence the identity of the individual. The only exception to this confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm, and where there is no other reasonable option and/or where required by law. Whether this risk exists is a determination to be made by the Ombudsperson in consultation with the University's General Counsel. Best practice is to interpret "imminent risk of serious harm" as narrowly as possible–for example, imminent risk to human life.
- The Ombudsperson publicizes the confidential nature of Ombudsperson work.
- The nature and role of confidentiality will be communicated prior to discussing the concerns brought by the inquirer.
- The Ombudsperson maintains an advisory role only and does not testify in any formal process inside the organization and resists testifying in any formal process outside of the organization regarding an inquirer's contact with or confidential information communicated to the Ombudsperson, even if given permission or requested to do so.
- If the Ombudsperson pursues an issue systemically (e.g., provides feedback on trends, issues, policies, and practices) the Ombudsperson does so in a way that safeguards the identity of individuals.
- Ombudsperson materials should state that any Ombudsperson reporting of trends, or communication of recommendations for systemic change, is done in a manner that protects the identity of individuals.
- In all materials and other communications describing the functions of the Ombudsperson's Council, it should be emphasized that it is the "off-the-record" aspects of the Council that lead people who use the Ombudsperson to do so before taking any official or formal action, and that the Ombudsperson Council enables people to come forward with an issue when they might otherwise be afraid to do so or when they fear retaliation from managers or peers.
- The Ombudsperson identifies trends, issues and concerns about policies and procedures, including potential future issues and concerns, without breaching confidentiality or anonymity, and provides recommendations for responsibly addressing them.
- The Ombudsperson keeps no records containing identifying information on behalf of the organization.
- The Ombudsperson maintains information (e.g., notes, phone messages, appointment calendars) in a secure location and manner, protected from inspection by others (including management), and has a consistent and standard practice consistent with University record retention requirements for the destruction of such information.
- The Ombudsperson record-keeping systems and/or database should be independent, with access allowed only to the Ombudsperson Council. The Council should develop and implement processes and procedures to regularly purge information that could identify individual inquirers to the Council.
- The Ombudsperson should take all reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality of any temporary notes or documents, such as locking file drawers and offices, and exercising extreme vigilance if any notes are carried from one place to another.
- Communications made to the Ombudsperson are informal and do not represent a formal notification to the organization. The Ombudsperson neither acts as agent for, nor accepts notice on behalf of, the organization and shall not serve in a position or role that is designated by the organization as a place to receive notice on behalf of the organization.
- The Ombudsperson should refer individuals to the appropriate place where formal notice can be made.
- Best practice is for the organization to receive allegations of wrongdoing directly from a complainant or witness, and not indirectly through the Ombudsperson.
- The Ombudsperson Council should have a well-defined and generally available procedure detailing the limited circumstances and the processes under which the Ombudsperson may provide notice.
Informality and Other Standards
- The Ombudsperson functions on an informal basis by such means as: listening, providing, and receiving information; identifying and reframing issues; developing a range of responsible options including referring individuals to the appropriate forum for a formal complaint or grievance; and, with permission and at the Ombudsperson's discretion, engaging in informal third-party intervention.
- When possible, the Ombudsperson helps people develop new ways to solve problems themselves.
- The Ombudsperson Council advocates within the organization to encourage development and maintenance of a variety of effective formal (rights-based) and informal (confidential, interest-based) options for surfacing, exploring, and resolving issues and concerns.
- As an inquirer may wish to consult with additional resources and services, such as the Employee Assistance Program, Human Resources, or the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, the Ombudsperson should remain abreast and informed of all resources that might be appropriate to an inquirer's presenting circumstances.
- The Ombudsperson uses a flexible approach with regard to concerns brought to the Ombudsperson Council, with options that are tailored to individual circumstances.
- The Ombudsperson should give inquirers information about the entity's formal procedures and remedies whenever appropriate. While an inquirer may choose to explore informal options for a wide variety of reasons, the Ombudsperson should remind the inquirer to keep in mind possible time limits and their potential impact on the inquirer's formal options.
- The Ombudsperson as an informal and off-the-record resource pursues resolution of concerns and looks into procedural irregularities and/or broader systemic problems when appropriate.
- The Ombudsperson does not make binding decisions, mandate policies, or formally adjudicate issues for the organization. The Ombudsperson should not participate in formal management functions.
- The Ombudsperson supplements, but does not replace, any formal channels. Use of the Ombudsperson Council is voluntary and is not a required step in any grievance process or organizational policy.
- The Ombudsperson does not participate in any formal investigative or adjudicative procedures. Formal investigations should be conducted by others. When a formal investigation is requested, the Ombudsperson refers individuals to the appropriate offices or individual.
- The Ombudsperson always acts in accordance with the Illinois State University Ombudsperson Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, adapted directly from the International Ombudsperson Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice, and keeps professionally current by pursuing continuing education.
- The Ombudsperson endeavors to be worthy of the trust placed in the Ombudsperson Council