Office of the Student Ombuds Charter – as of November 2019
The Student Ombuds Office is a place where student questions, complaints and concerns about the functioning of the University can be discussed in a safe environment. The Office offers informal dispute resolution services, provides resources and referrals, and helps students consider options available to them. The Office is not an advocate for either side in a dispute. Instead, the Student Ombuds Office is an impartial advocate for fair and consistent treatment. The Student Ombuds Office also believes that disputes and conflicts can often be “gifts” to help the University understand how it can change and improve. Thus, The Student Ombuds Office promotes positive organizational change by facilitating improvements in University policies, procedures, services and systems to better serve students. The University recognizes that the Student Ombuds Office serves an important role and public interest as a mechanism for amicable, prompt and economical informal dispute resolution. The Student Ombuds Office reports to the Vice-President for Student Affairs for administrative and budgetary purposes. This document defines the privileges and responsibilities of the Student Ombuds Office.
II. STANDARDS OF PRACTICE AND CODE OF ETHICS
The Student Ombuds is guided by the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. These suggest that the Student Ombuds should strive to retain privacy and neutrality, and limit the scope of their services to informal means of dispute resolution.
The Student Ombuds seeks to be truthful and acts with integrity, fosters respect for all members of the University, and promotes fairness in the content and administration of the University’s practices, processes and policies.
A. Neutrality and Impartiality
The Student Ombuds Office does not take sides in any conflict, dispute or issue. The Student Ombuds Office considers the interests and concerns of all visitors impartially with the aim of facilitating communication and supporting fair and equitable process. The Student Ombuds serves no additional roles within the University that would compromise neutrality and avoids involvement in matters where there may be conflict of interest.
The Student Ombuds maintains privacy of the conversations held within office and are not shared with anyone unless there is a legal obligation that requires disclosure of the discussion.
The Student Ombuds is required to report possible sexual misconduct violations (Title IX) as well as instances of child abuse and neglect. The Student Ombuds must also report crimes to WCU Public Safety in accordance with the Clery and Campus SaVE requirements. In addition, the Student Ombuds would also break privacy if deemed necessary to ensure safety when there is a threat of harm to self or others.
Like all University offices, the Student Ombuds also is responsible to comply with lawfully-issued subpoenas, litigation discovery requests, and Right to Know Law requests.
The Student Ombuds, as an informal resource, does not investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any internal or external formal process or action. Use of the Office will be voluntary and not University policy. The Office is not designed to serve as an office of official notice to the University. As set forth more fully below, the Student Ombuds is designed to refer individuals to the appropriate place where formal notice can be made.
III. AUTHORITY OF THE STUDENT OMBUDS OFFICE
A. Initiating Informal Inquiries
The Office will be entitled to inquire informally about any student issue concerning the University, exercising sole discretion over whether or how to act regarding individual concerns or trends. The Office may initiate informal inquiries into matters that come to its attention without having received a specific complaint.
B. Access to Information
The Office may request access to information related to visitors’ concerns from files and offices of the University. Any University personnel contacted by the Office with request for information are expected to cooperate and provide information as requested with reasonable promptness to the extent permitted by law.
C. Ending Involvement in Matters
The Student Ombuds may withdraw from or decline to look into a matter if they believe involvement would be inappropriate for any reason.
D. Discussions with Visitors and Others
The Student Ombuds has the authority to discuss a range of options available to visitors, including both informal and formal processes. The Student Ombuds may make any recommendations they deem appropriate with regard to resolving problems or improving policies, rules, or procedures. However, the Student Ombuds shall have no actual authority to impose remedies or sanctions or to enforce or change any policy, rule or procedure.
IV. LIMITS OF THE STUDENT OMBUDS OFFICE
A. Putting the University on Notice
As explained above, the Student Ombuds Office is not designed to serve as an office of official notice for the University. If a visitor of the Student Ombuds Office would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or desires that certain information be provided to the University, the Student Ombuds will facilitate this process. This role for the Office will not impede the Office from meeting any of its legally-required reporting obligations, however.
B. Formal Processes and Investigations
The Office will not conduct formal investigations of any kind. It will only participate in the internal or external dispute process, outside agency complaints or lawsuits, as required by law or policy.
C. Record Keeping
The Office will not keep records for the University and will not create or maintain documents or records for the University about individual matters. The Student Ombuds may maintain statistical data to assist in reporting trends and giving feedback, but only in a manner that reveals no information that could be used to identify individual visitors to the Office.
D. Advocacy for Parties
The Office will remain neutral and impartial. The Office will not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute; the Office will not represent the University or visitors to the Office.
E. Adjudication of Issues
The Office does not have the authority to adjudicate, to impose remedies or sanctions, to compel others to impose remedies, or to enforce or change University policies or rules.
V. RETALIATION FOR USING THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDS
The University and its agents will not retaliate against individuals for consulting with the Office.