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Ombuds Office

Frequently Asked Questions

Will my professor, colleague, student, or boss know I’ve contacted you?

The ombuds staff won’t tell anyone you’ve contacted us. Others will learn you’ve used the Ombuds Office only if you tell them, unless you specifically direct us to tell a person you want us to work with to address your challenge. This also means we don’t tell others what you’ve said to us, or how you’ve said it.  The Ombuds Office does, however, provide aggregate data to the President’s Office.

What’s the first step I take to see if I should work with an ombuds?

Call the Ombuds Office to get more information or to schedule an appointment. We strongly encourage you to call first instead of dropping by, as this is the way we can provide the most privacy and confidentiality for Ombuds Office visitors. E-mail isn’t a secure way to communicate, so you should use it to contact us only when a phone call is difficult to arrange. When we return your calls, the Ombuds Office phone number and name will not show on the phone display. This is to provide an additional measure of confidentiality.

How is the Ombuds Office different from other offices on campus that address community member concerns?

Our process is informal, and we emphasize developing strategies you can use before you decide it’s necessary to use one of Lewis & Clark’s formal administrative processes. We don’t make decisions and we don’t take disciplinary action, though we can help you decide how to approach these effectively if necessary. Working with us is off the record, which sometimes makes talking about problems a little less intimidating.

What happens when I visit the Ombuds Office?

We listen to your concerns, help you explore your concerns from additional perspectives, and work with you to identify some strategies to address the things that aren’t working well for you. We can help you practice different conversations you’d like to have with others. Sometimes we even act as a neutral party when you ask us to help in that fashion.

What does “Ombuds” mean?

You may have heard the following words used to describe services such as ours: ombudsman, ombudsperson, ombud, ombuds. At Lewis & Clark, we use “ombuds” most often. The ombuds practice has been found as far back as hundreds of years ago in countries including China and Korea. In more recent history, it was the Swedish government that used “ombudsman” to identify formal advocates for citizens. In the United States, there are laws that require some governmental agencies to have ombuds services to help agency users navigate the intricacies of working with the agency and to investigate when something seems to go wrong. Colleges, universities, and corporate ombuds offices use a different ombuds model, the organizational ombuds. This type of ombuds, which is the model at Lewis & Clark, is an independent and confidential resource that uses informal processes. This type of ombuds is neutral, advocating for fair processes rather than individuals or groups.

How does the confidentiality work?

Our work with you is strictly off the record unless you specifically ask us to help you work with someone else. We won’t talk with anyone about your particular issues, though we do provide periodic reports to the President and members of the executive team about trends we see. In this case, statistics about the kinds of concerns we work with are reported in a general way to protect your anonymity.
Work with the Ombuds is voluntarily and confidential as it is guided by the principles of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA).  Therefore in working with the Ombudsperson, you agree that you won’t call on the Ombuds to testify regarding the confidential communications.  

Why aren’t you an advocate for me?

The Ombuds Office staff advocates for fair process rather than individuals or groups in accordance with professional ombuds ethics and standards of practice. A benefit of this approach is that the ombuds might discover—or help you discover—a useful alternative perspective that might have otherwise have been missed.

Can I remain anonymous?

Yes. The ombuds staff will not reveal your identity unless you specifically request it as part of working towards resolution of your concerns.  

Can I put the Lewis & Clark “on notice” by talking to the Ombuds Office staff?

No, the Ombuds Office is not an office of notice. To put Lewis & Clark on notice in a particular situation such as perceived sexual harassment, you must contact particular staff. The ombuds staff can refer you to them.

I’ve heard you sometimes act as a third party in difficult conversations. What does that mean?

Have you ever been in a heated discussion with someone and felt they weren’t really hearing what you had to say? Or found yourself getting lost as strong emotions in the conversation pushed your hot buttons? If you request it and the other person agrees, we can sit in on the conversation and help ensure that it is effective, so each of you is listened to by the other and gets help clarifying important points when necessary.

What kind of records do you keep?

We may make a few notes while we work with you, and if we do, we’ll give them to you at the end of the working session. We do not keep records from the discussions.  We do keep some statistical data about the categories of concerns visitors discuss, as well as some general demographic data which is aggregated.

What is coaching?

We can help you identify goals that matter to you, such as learning a new skill, and help you develop strategies for successfully completing goals you’ve already defined for yourself. Or maybe you’ve received some constructive feedback that you’ve taken to heart and you want to get some help figuring out how to tackle the area. For example, perhaps you find yourself communicating defensively and want help to improve your communication style. We can help you figure out how to move forward.