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What Makes Us Tick (About Us)

Confidential, Independent, Impartial, Informal

The University Ombuds support all members of the university in preparing for and navigating situations that involve conflict. In doing so, the W&M Ombuds Office adheres to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association:

Confidentiality

The Ombuds holds in strictest confidence any communications with those seeking assistance and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so. The only exception to this confidentiality is where there appears to be communication about imminent risk of serious harm or the individual authorizes disclosure.

Independence

The Ombuds is not aligned with any organizational entity and reports to the highest level possible within the organization.

Impartiality/Neutrality

The Ombuds advocates for a fair process rather than on behalf of any individual.

Informality

The Ombuds supplements, but does not replace, any formal channels for grievance or adjudicative procedures and is not an agent of notice on behalf of the organization.

How is the Ombuds different?

In addressing workplace concerns, the Ombuds may help a visitor approach multiple resources including those within the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Compliance and Equity and the Office of Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity.

How does an Ombuds differ from an Employee Relations professional?


Employee Relations professionals:

  • formally assist managers and employees of the organization in establishing, following and applying HR-related policies and procedures.
  • conduct formal investigations as a basis for management action and they can make or modify policy.
  • accept formal notice of a claim on behalf of the organization and may be called upon to testify in formal proceedings.

As a result, Employee Relations professionals cannot always extend complete confidentiality to individuals who come forward with issues. While they seek to ensure fair application of policy, their role is not completely neutral because they are part of the management structure and must directly represent and protect the interests of the organization.

Ombuds officers:

  • provide informal assistance in surfacing and resolving issues.
  • recommend that an organization consider establishing or revising policy, but play no formal role in enforcing or deciding to implement policy.
  • act as a neutral party and advocate for fair process for all members of the organization.
  • do not conduct formal investigations. However, they do assist in identifying or creating options for resolution including referrals to formal channels with investigatory powers and gathering information to support more informed decisions.
  • do not accept notice for the organization or make decisions on behalf of the organization.
Other distinct roles on campus

The Office of Compliance & Equity is responsible for all discrimination complaints that are specific to protected classes (age, sex/gender, race, veteran’s status, national origin, sexual orientation, political belief, disability, or any category protected by the Commonwealth or federal law) and makes sure William & Mary adheres to anti-discrimination laws. Office staff accept reports and grievances and conduct internal investigations.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion spearheads the university's affirmative action and diversity efforts. As a part of that mission, it helps to prevent discrimination and harassment and is committed to creating a W&M community that is representative and inclusive of individuals with different backgrounds, talents, and skills. The office works to ensure that William & Mary is a community where all faculty, staff, and students feel supported and affirmed.

The regulatory and compliance nature of these professionals require formality and notice, which contradict the principles of the Ombuds.

There is also a faculty member who also serves as the Graduate (Arts & Sciences) Ombuds for graduate students in Arts & Sciences. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science also sponsors a Graduate Student Ombuds Team performing a similar function for graduate students at VIMS. The University Ombuds can also be contacted if individuals would prefer an ombuds outside those organizations.

The Dean of Students Office addresses student concerns, even in their roles as employees.

Why can you trust the Ombuds?

The terms "ombuds", "ombudsperson" and "ombudsman" are used interchangeably and carry certain professional and legal responsibilities. An office or individual using these terms should follow the professional tenets outlined in International Ombudsman Association (IOA) standards.

William & Mary supports the role of the Ombuds as outlined in the following documents:

Terms of Reference (pdf)
Statement of Best Practices (pdf)