IV. Authority and Limits of the Ombuds Office

Specific areas of authority and limitations on the authority of the Ombuds Office include those listed below:

A. Authority of the Ombuds Office

The authority and role of the Ombuds Office as well as qualifications for Ombuds staff derives from University Senate Rules and Regulations, Article V., Section 1 and Article VI, Section 2, 6.2.1 – 6.2.2.2:

ARTICLE V.      ORGANIZATION FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Section l.          University Ombudsman

5.1.1     Appointment.  The University Ombudsman shall be appointed by the Chancellor from among a panel of three candidates presented by the Senate Executive Committee.

5.1.2     Ombudsman’s Office.  Faculty will be represented in the staffing of the Ombudsman Office through a part time appointment of a faculty member either to the position of Ombudsman or as Assistant Ombudsman.

5.1.3     Term of Office.  A faculty member serving in the Ombuds Office shall serve a three-year term.  The Ombudsman shall be eligible for reappointment.

5.1.4     Qualifications.  The Ombudsman shall possess a comprehensive knowledge of the University organization and procedures and a post-baccalaureate degree.   He or she shall, at the time of initial appointment, have completed at least six years of service at the University of Kansas.

ARTICLE VI.     PROCEDURES FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Section 2.         Informal Means of Dispute Resolution

6.2.1 Generally. The collegial atmosphere of the University community is best served through informal compromise resolution of disputes. Thus, before pursuing formal grievance procedures, a grievant should ordinarily attempt to resolve the matter informally through direct or indirect consultation with the other party or through discussions with supervisory personnel.

6.2.2 Ombudsman. The Ombudsman shall be available (a) to receive and attempt to resolve individual grievances of members of the University community; and (b) to recommend procedural changes within the University in response to experience acquired in investigating individual cases.

6.2.2.1 Powers. The Ombudsman shall have access to all administrative officials of the University and, in accordance with law, to all University records, including those of faculty members. He or she shall not have authority to take disciplinary action, reverse decisions, or circumvent existing University rules and procedures. He or she shall supplement, not replace, other means, where they exist, for redress of grievances. All proceedings in individual cases shall be held confidential by the Ombudsman unless otherwise authorized by the complainant.

6.2.2.2 Reports. The Ombudsman shall at least annually make reports to the University community at large.

The University or Faculty Ombuds shall be entitled to inquire about any issue concerning the University which affects any member of the University community, and shall respect the confidentiality of that information.  The University or Faculty Ombuds shall have access to all records and personnel of the University of Kansas, for the purpose of performing his/her duties unless such records are privileged under Kansas or federal law. An Ombuds has the authority to break confidence if an Ombuds believes there is an imminent risk of serious harm.

An Ombuds may, without having received a specific complaint from a member of the University community, inquire about matters which he/she believes to warrant attention.

The Ombuds Office may decline to inquire into a matter or may withdraw its services from a visitor if an Ombuds believes involvement is inappropriate for any reason, including, but not limited to, matters not brought in good faith, a conflict of interest, or matters which appear to be a misuse of the Ombuds function.

An Ombuds has the authority to discuss a range of options available to the visitor, including both informal and formal procedures.

The Ombuds Office may require legal or other professional advice in order to fulfill its required functions.  In the event that the Ombuds Office is asked for documents or testimony related to any litigation or other formal process, or when any other conflict of interest arises between the Ombuds Office, the administration, or General Counsel of the University of Kansas, the Ombuds Office may be provided legal counsel independent from the University through the Office of the Kansas Attorney General.

B.  Limitations on Authority of the Ombuds Office

1.  Receiving Notice for the University

Communication to the Ombuds Office shall not constitute notice to the University.  The Ombuds Office shall publicize its non-notice role to the university community.  This includes allegations that may be perceived to be violations of laws, regulations or policies, such as sexual harassment, issues covered by the Whistleblower policy, or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act.  Since the Ombuds Office is informal, off-the-record, confidential, and independent, an Ombuds is not required to report allegations to the University.  If a visitor would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or wishes for information to be provided to the University, an Ombuds will provide the visitor with information and refer the visitor to an official who represents the University so that the visitor may do so himself/herself.

2.  Collective Bargaining Agreements

The Ombuds Office shall not address any issues arising under a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), unless allowed by specific language in the CBA (e.g., Kansas Association of Public Employees (KAPE)).  This means that while the Ombuds Office may provide services to union members, those services may not include addressing issues that are covered in the CBA, including, but not limited to, issues such as grievable claims for termination of employment or formal discipline.  In those cases, an Ombuds shall refer the employee to the CBA and to their union representative. 

3.  Formal Processes and Investigations

The Ombuds Office shall not conduct formal investigations of any kind.  An Ombuds shall also not participate in formal dispute processes or outside agency complaints or lawsuits, either on behalf of a visitor to the Ombuds Office or on behalf of the University, subject to compliance with a judicial subpoena or court order.  Because confidentiality and informality are critically important to the Ombuds Office, all communications with an Ombuds are made with the understanding that communication is confidential, off-the-record, and that no one from the Ombuds Office will be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding to reveal confidential communications, unless compelled by judicial subpoena or court order. The Ombuds Office provides an alternate channel for dispute resolution, and all use of ombuds services shall be voluntary.

4. Record Keeping and Electronic Communication

The Ombuds Office does not keep records for the University, and shall not create or maintain documents or records for the University about individual cases.  Notes, if any, taken during the course of working on a case shall be routinely destroyed at regular intervals.  All materials related to a case should be maintained in a secure location and manner, and should be destroyed once the case is concluded.  An Ombuds may maintain non-confidential statistical data to assist an Ombuds in reporting trends and providing feedback to the University.

Due to confidentiality concerns, the University Ombuds Office discourages the use of e-mail to communicate with visitors.  If anyone wishes to communicate with an Ombuds via e-mail, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.  The University Ombuds Office will delete e-mail correspondence on a regular basis.

5. Advocacy for Parties

An Ombuds shall not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute, nor shall it represent management or visitors to the Ombuds Office.

6. Adjudication of Issues

The Ombuds Office shall not have authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change policies or rules.

7. Conflict of Interest

Individual ombuds shall avoid involvement in cases where there may be a conflict of interest.  A conflict of interest occurs when an Ombuds’ private or professional interests, real or perceived, supersede or conflict with his or her dedication to the impartial and independent nature of the role of the Ombuds.  When a real or perceived conflict exists, an Ombuds should take all steps necessary to disclose and/or avoid the conflict.

8. Grievance Procedure and Mediation

As described in Article VI of the U.S.R.R. (“Procedures for Conflict Resolution,” Section 2, “Informal Means of Dispute Resolution”), the Ombuds Office shall maintain a list of individuals willing to serve as mediators and with training and/or experience in dispute resolution, in consultation with others throughout the University community.  The role of the Ombuds Office in formal mediation is limited to maintenance of this list and to providing assistance with locating an appropriate mediator.  The Ombuds Office plays no other role in the mediation process.


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