Why we exist:
In any large organization, particularly one as diverse and complex as the University of Mississippi, disputes, concerns, and interpersonal conflicts are inevitable. The University of Mississippi established the University Ombuds’ Office in 2015 to help the University of Mississippi Community live up to the ideals set forth in the Creed. To accomplish this, the University Ombuds provides the University of Mississippi Community with a confidential, neutral, independent, and informal place to voluntarily seek assistance with bringing forth and resolving campus-related concerns, problems, or disputes.
Faculty, staff, and graduate students may use the University Ombuds to discuss workplace issues, interpersonal conflicts, bureaucratic issues, and other problems. The University Ombuds acts in the pursuit of equity and fairness for all members of the University of Mississippi Community. The purpose of the University Ombuds is to ensure that every voice at the University of Mississippi can be heard, without fear of loss of privacy, retaliation, or retribution.
Whether the issue is large or small, members of the University of Mississippi Community are encouraged to come and talk with the University Ombuds. Often issues are easiest to solve at the earliest stages and before they have a major impact. The University Ombuds can assist by serving as a confidential listener, providing guidance with policies and procedures, generating options and ideas for handling concerns, mediating, facilitating difficult conversations, and providing information on other campus resources. The University Ombuds’ Office fosters civility and mutual respect among members of the University of Mississippi Community. The University Ombuds helps identify the nature and scope of concerns or conflicts and then identify options and resources to achieve fair and equitable outcomes.
Who we serve:
The University Ombuds serves all faculty, staff, and graduate students at the Oxford Campus and at the satellite campuses in Tupelo and Desoto. Additionally, the University Ombuds serves faculty and staff directly employed by the University of Mississippi at the Grenada Center and the Boonville Center. At the present time, the University Ombuds’ Office does not serve employees or students at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The Ombuds assists individuals with concerns such as:
• Interpersonal conflicts
• Disciplinary actions
• Performance evaluations
• Workplace health and safety concerns
• Personal and sick leave concerns
• Understanding University policies and procedures
• Claims against reputation
• Ethical dilemmas
• Understanding formal grievance options and procedures
• Policy violations
• Unprofessional conduct
• Cultural misunderstandings
• Retaliation or threats of retaliation
• Departmental conflict
The Ombuds DOES:
• Listen attentively to concerns and recommendations
• Keep your visit confidential, unless there is a danger if imminent harm or required by law
• Help identify a range of resolution options
• Explain University policies and procedures
• Facilitate communication between people
• Mediate between parties
• Serve as a facilitator in group problem-solving
• Make referrals to other sources of assistance
• Provide information about formal and informal reporting options
• Suggest the redirection of matters to formal channels when appropriate
• Advocate for fairness, equity, inclusion, and a healthy campus environment
• Consult with University units and departments on options for conflict resolution
• Assist in achieving outcomes consistent with fairness, established policies, and the law
• Provide confidential guidance, information and individual coaching to help prepare for difficult conversations
• Point out patterns of problems/complaints to administrators
• Identify trends and make recommendations for improvement to prevent issues from recurring
• Make recommendations regarding changes in policy and procedures
The Ombuds DOES NOT:
• Tell anyone what they should do
• Take sides in a dispute
• Serve as an advocate or represent any individual or group
• Determine guilt or innocence
• Provide legal advice or representation
• Provide counseling services
• Make or overturn management decisions
• Make, change, or set aside established policies
• Participate in any formal grievance process
• Testify in any formal process inside or outside the University
• Serve as a judge or arbitrator in a dispute, or otherwise make determinations about the outcome of the case
• Serve as an office of record (the Office of the Ombudsperson does not keep formal records)
• Accept notice for the University (although members of the University of Mississippi Community are welcome to meet with the University Ombudsperson to discuss where and how to file a formal grievance or put the University on notice)
• Handle academic complaints, such as grade appeals
• Breach confidentiality
• Conduct formal or in-depth investigations
• Replace existing resources
How we fit into the University structure:
The University Ombuds’ Office is an independent entity that reports directly to the Chancellor and operates outside of ordinary University structures. The University Ombuds is independent of formal campus investigative and adjudicative processes and plays no role in them. The University Ombuds provides the Chancellor with periodic reports about trends on campus and provides upward feedback to University administrators; however, any data or reports that are shared are prepared in a manner that protects confidentiality.
The Office’s Charter Agreement was approved and signed by Interim Chancellor Stocks in 2015; this Agreement sets forth the duties and privileges of the Ombuds, and confirms that this Office will operate according to the standards of practice and code of ethics set forth by the International Ombudsman Association. These principles require that the Office is impartial, independent of other campus offices and processes, informal, and confidential.
Not an office of notice:
All communication with the University Ombuds and the University Ombuds’ Office is informal and “off the record.” Neither the University Ombuds nor the University Ombuds’ Office act as an agent of “notice” for the University. Neither the University Ombuds nor the University Ombuds’ Office accept notice on behalf of the University of Mississippi. Consulting with the University Ombuds will not initiate any formal complaint process; however, members of the University of Mississippi Community are welcome to meet with the University Ombuds to discuss where and how to file a formal grievance or how to put the University on notice. In the alternative, members of the University of Mississippi Community are welcome to contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance (662) 915-7735, the Title IX Office, Telephone (662) 915-7045, TDD:(662) 915-1570, or the Office of General Counsel located at 209 Lyceum, Telephone (662) 915-7014, Fax (662) 915-5640 in order to provide the University with formal notice of an issue.
A word about confidentiality:
Confidentiality is the bedrock upon which the University Ombuds’ Office’s reputation rests. We take the confidentiality of the users of our services – “visitors” in the language of the ombuds profession – very seriously. All services are confidential to the full extent allowed by law and University policy. The Office does not keep formal records, and neither the University Ombuds nor the University Ombuds’ Office should be sent or copied on any formal message. Any notes regarding a visitor to the University Ombuds’ Office are seen only by the University Ombuds, and are destroyed when the issue is resolved or when the file becomes inactive. The University Ombuds will not testify in any formal process inside the University and will not voluntarily testify in any formal process outside of the University, even if given permission or requested to do so.
Exceptions to confidentiality:
There are situations when the University Ombuds may disclose the identity of visitors or the content of confidential communications with the University Ombuds or the University Ombuds’ Office:
• When given permission to do so by the visitor
• When required by law or a court of law
• When the Ombuds perceives an imminent risk of serious harm and there is no reasonable alternative to disclosure available
• When there is reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse
• When the University Ombuds’ Office receives a report of gender-based misconduct and is required by law to make a report to the appropriate University of Mississippi office
Those who wish to learn more about mandatory reporting requirements for University of Mississippi employees are encouraged to refer to the University’s Sexual Assault Response website and the University’s Guide for Title IX Mandatory Reporters of Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence, and Stalking website.