"[BSU's ombuds office] offers a place where individuals can come in and tell their story and explain what their concerns are."
Those seeking help or advice on a wide variety of issues will soon have a new place to turn.
Thanks in part to the work of the Special Presidential Task Force on Racial Justice, an ombuds office will be established at Bridgewater State University.
If the term is unfamiliar, it’s not for want of proliferation. Ombudsmen, to use the traditional term for the position, can be found working in government, newspapers, private companies and in a growing number of educational settings, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Brandeis University and the University of Connecticut. Typically, the job involves listening to concerns from across the institution and attempting to resolve issues by presenting a set of recommendations or offering the option of mediation.
BSU’s ombuds office (this title that BSU is using is purposely gender-free) will have a specific mandate.
“It offers a place where individuals can come in and tell their story and explain what their concerns are,” said Dr. Pam Russell, program associate for the Office of the Provost, and a member of the task force’s subcommittee charged with creating a place for ongoing support, problem solving, reporting resolution and response. “In turn, the ombuds can come up with a fairly robust list of possible solutions to their problem.”
“The ombuds can also discuss someone’s comfort levels with each option,” Dr. Russell said. “This allows the visitor to make an informed choice about how they want to solve their problem. Hopefully, they will come away with more than one possible solution.”
There are many types of ombuds. BSU will establish what’s known as an organizational ombuds office, a place where, in the language of the subcommittee’s recommendations, complaints and concerns can be shared in an informal, confidential setting with a neutral, independent party.
The issues the BSU ombuds might face will likely be myriad, including topics such as roommate problems, questions about grades and related conflicts, as well as topics involving diversity, equity and inclusion, or the lack thereof. On a larger scale, the new office can also support fair processes across the institution and foster an ethical and trusting environment on campus and beyond.
Generally, ombuds can also perform outreach, offering workshops on matters such as conflict management, difficult conversations and more.
An ombuds office has been something BSU administrators have been contemplating since 2018, Dr. Russell said. While the recommendation by the task force has put it on a fast track, the code of ethics for the job, as set by the International Ombuds Association, are timeless: confidentiality, impartiality, independence (reporting directly to the office of the president) and informality.
The next steps in creating an ombuds office at BSU will be the creation of a guiding charter and policy and procedures, a marketing plan and an approved job listing. The goal is to have these steps completed before the end of the spring 2023 semester.
The rollout of the position will include two phases, with the first focused on student concerns. The second phase will open the door to the rest of the BSU community.