Handbook of Operating Procedures 9-1310-PM

Charter for the Office of the Student Ombuds

POLICY MEMORANDUM

The University of Texas at Austin
Executive Sponsor: Office of the President
May 10, 2011

 

  1. Purpose

This charter defines the role and responsibilities of the Student Ombuds in fulfilling the functions of the Office of the Student Ombuds ("Office"), and promotes students' and the University's understanding and confidence in the Office.  The Office was established to provide a neutral, impartial, and confidential environment for students to voice concerns related to life at the University of Texas at Austin ("University"), and to provide information and assistance to students who have University-related questions or complaints.  the Student Ombuds ("SO") functions in an independent and informal manner to help students explore options for effective problem solving and conflict resolution.  The SO identifies and provides recommendations to the University regarding systemic issues.

 

The credibility of the office rests on its reputation for independence, impartiality, fairness, objectivity, tact, and respectful concern for the welfare of all members of the University community and the well-being of the University.  The SO advocates for fair and equitably administered processes and does not side with individuals or the University. The office helps the University uphold the institutional core values, student honor code, and University code of conduct.

 

  1. Scope and Duties
  1. The scope of the Ombuds' duties extends to all aspects of University life affecting students, both academic and nonacademic. The Student Ombuds:
  1. Provides students with information, referrals, and assistance with appropriate policies and processes for addressing University-related concerns.
  1. Helps students receive expeditious, fair, and impartial treatment.
  1. Provides students with voluntary conflict management for disputes and concerns related to student life at the University, both academic and nonacademic. This may include identification of options, policy clarification, conflict coaching, mediation, training, and other conflict resolution or consultative services, as appropriate.
  1. The Office and this Office Charter are based on the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice developed by the International Ombudsman Association (lOA).  To the extent permitted by state law, regental rules, and University policy, the Student Ombuds will function according to these best practices and ethical principles of confidentiality, impartiality/neutrality, informality, and independence. These principles govern the way in which the Ombuds receives complaints, works to resolve issues, and makes recommendations for the general improvement of the University.
  1. Confidentiality. In order to create a safe place to voice concerns, evaluate issues, and generate options, the Student Ombuds maintains privacy and confidentiality to the extent permitted by law and university policy. For example, the Ombuds may disclose confidential information if, and when, there is a perceived imminent risk of serious harm to self or others and no other mechanism for reporting is available or timely.

  1. Neutrality. The Student Ombuds provides impartial and objective assessments of any concern brought to the Office. As a neutral third-party, the Ombuds does not take sides on behalf of any individual or cause. The Ombuds considers the interests and concerns of all parties involved with the aim of developing fair and equitable options towards resolution that are consistent with the mission and policies of the University.

  1. Informality. The Office will be a resource for informal and off-the-record dispute resolution only. The Student Ombuds will not participate in formal processes even if given permission by the student or other visitors. Formal investigations and grievances are the purview of other offices. The Ombuds assists students in accessing formal procedures including making referrals to proper avenues to request that the university takes formal action. Use of the office is strictly voluntary, and disciplinary action or retaliation for using, or not using, Office services is prohibited.

  1. Independence. The Student Ombuds exercises autonomy regarding responsibilities and is authorized to act independently. The Office is independent and is situated outside of the University’s normal administrative structure to better uphold impartiality. The Ombuds neither compels other offices to take specific action nor receives compulsory orders from other offices about how to approach a particular issue. Although the Ombuds has no authority to establish, change, or set aside any University rule or policy or override the decisions of University officials, the Ombuds has access to all University officials and records as needed to carry out the functions of the Office. University administrators shall cooperate with the Ombuds in good faith and in a timely manner. The Ombuds takes all steps to avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. The Ombuds shall report directly to the President of the University to ensure independence in fulfillment of duties.

  1. The Office of the Student Ombuds does not maintain identifying records, and it asserts privilege with regard to the identity of visitors and their concerns.
  1. The Student Ombuds makes periodic reports to the President regarding the operation of the office. In addition, the Student Ombuds may report to the President or other University officers any concerns about systemic issues, policies or procedures, and make appropriate recommendations.

  1. Service exclusions:
  1. The Office of the Student Ombuds does not offer legal advice, therapy services, make binding decisions, or override the authority of other University officials.

  2. The Office does not testify, participate, or replace any formal complaint, grievance or appeals process. The Student Ombuds may, however, assist a student in accessing and understanding formal grievance or appeal procedures.

  3. The Student Ombuds may decline to deal with any case which he or she considers inappropriate for the Office.

III. Selection and Appointment

 

  1. When a vacancy occurs, a search committee composed of three students, one faculty member, and one staff member shall be appointed by the President. The President shall appoint the chair of the search committee from the members of the committee. The search committee and President are encouraged to consult with other University Ombuds during the selection process.
  1. The Student Ombuds should not hold another position at the University or have another role that could compromise the principles of independence, neutrality, confidentiality, and informality. Staff of the Office of the Student Ombuds should not be involved in formal or informal processes that would compromise these principles.
  1. The Student Ombuds shall hold an administrative and professional appointment, subject to the conditions of such an appointment. Students will be consulted as part of the annual performance evaluation of the Student Ombuds.

IV. Structure and Organization

 

  1. To ensure independence in the fulfillment of the Ombuds’ duties, the Student Ombuds shall report to the President of the University.
     
  2. The Office of the Student Ombuds shall have a budget for operating expenses, staff, professional development and training, and other necessary expenses. Funding will come from allocations of the Student Services Budget Committee and other appropriate university sources.
  1. The Student Ombuds may employ staff, student employees, and interns to fulfill the mission of the Office.
  1. The University shall provide appropriate space for the Office to conduct business.

 

*This revision amends this Policy Memorandum last reviewed on August 1, 2005.

 

Previously PM 4.140