What is an Ombuds?

The first historical record of an Ombuds dates back to 1809, when the Swedish parliament appointed an Ombuds, or people’s representative, to resolve problems in absence of the country's king.

Fast forward to the 1960's, Ombuds Offices proliferated on University campuses across the nation in response to student unrest. There are at least two-hundred educational institutions which offer the services of an Ombuds as a conflict management resource.

At William & Mary, the University Ombuds was established in January 2008, as a result of expressed interest on the part of university staff for an alternate form of addressing workplace concerns.

The professional organization for campus Ombuds is the International Ombuds Association (IOA), which was formed in July 2005 following the merger of the University and College Ombuds Association (UCOA) and The Ombudsman Association (TOA). Source: IOA website, last visited April 22, 2008.

The terms "ombuds", "ombudsperson" and "ombudsman" are used interchangeably and carry certain professional and legal responsibilities. Any office or individual using these terms should follow the longstanding professional tenets outlined in 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)

What does an Ombuds do?

The Office of the Ombuds seeks to support more open and effective communication between employees and the university. In doing so, the outcome is to create a work environment of greater satisfaction for all employees.

The W&M Ombuds Office adheres to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the IOA. A common set of ethical principles establishes the foundation of ombuds work:

  • Independence—The Ombuds is not aligned with any organizational entity and reports to the highest level possible within the organization.
  • Neutrality—The Ombuds advocates for a fair process rather than on behalf of any individual.
  • 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 abuse of minors.
  • Informality—The Ombuds supplements, but does not replace, any formal channels for grievance or adjudicative procedures.

At William & Mary, the Ombuds reports directly to the Provost.