What’s an Ombuds
An Ombuds (pronounced “om-budz”) is an impartial and independent party who is trained and skilled in interpersonal communication, problem solving, conflict management and dispute resolution. The Ombuds provides confidential assistance to help individuals address concerns and fairly resolve problems.
At NC State, the Ombuds assists students of the university community to resolve problems related to their university working, learning or living experience by helping them clarify issues, communicate effectively, access and understand relevant information, identify alternative solutions and work collaboratively to achieve a fair resolution.
Why visit Student Ombuds Services (S.O.S)?
Students may come to our office for a variety of reasons. Sometimes students just want to talk. Some are reluctant to go through formal channels. Some just don’t know where else to go. And some have tried other ways to get help, but have not found what they need. If you are not sure whether Student Ombuds Services can help, please contact us, no matter how big or small your concern may be. We invite you to drop in just to get acquainted.
All conversations with the Ombuds are voluntary and free. Retaliation for visiting an Ombuds is prohibited.
How does an Ombuds differ from a lawyer?
The Ombuds role is quite different from that of a lawyer, who is associated with more formal processes and the legal system. An Ombuds maintains neutrality and impartiality when working with students, while a lawyer must advocate for their client and generally uses adversarial approaches to resolve issues. Though some Ombuds may have legal training and experience with issues of the law, Ombudsmen do not provide legal advice.
How does Student Ombuds Services differ from other offices on campus that address student concerns?
Our focus is on developing strategies that you might use before considering more formal administrative procedures. Working with us is completely “off the record,” which often makes talking about problems or concerns significantly less intimidating.
Is an Ombuds the same as a mediator?
No. An Ombuds works to manage conflict within an organization, whereas Mediation is a specific process used for conflict resolution. Many Ombuds are trained as mediators and often use mediation skills and techniques as one of many approaches to problem solving and conflict management.
When should I contact an Ombuds?
You may speak with an Ombuds at any time regarding any university-related concern. Exploring a problem–or a potential problem–with an impartial party before the situation escalates into a full-blown conflict can help you respond to your situation more effectively.
When you meet with an Ombuds, the Ombuds will listen to you and help you with clarifying your issues and identifying your interests as well as exploring your options. This process alone often makes it possible for people to resolve many of their own problems.
What issues can be brought to an Ombuds?
You may contact the Student Ombuds Services regarding any university-related issue; however, some issues have defined procedures or other designated offices established to address them. The Ombuds will let you know if S.O.S. is able to assist you with your concern and will refer you to a more appropriate office, if necessary.
Some common concerns involve: Interpersonal conflicts with faculty, advisors/major professors or peers, graduate committee function, groups/team functioning, housing issues, exam procedures, and ethical concerns. When in doubt about whether or not a concern is appropriate to discuss with S.O.S., go ahead and contact us; we’ll let you know.
Will my professor, parents, or peers know that I’ve contacted you?
We will not tell anyone that you’ve contacted Student Ombuds Services. Others will learn that you’ve contacted us only if you tell them or if you specifically direct us to contact a person you want us to work with to address your concern. If you decide to contact S.O.S., appointments are strongly encouraged. Our goal is to do everything that we can to insure both anonymity and confidentiality.
What happens if I decide to consult Student Ombuds Services?
We listen to your concerns and work with you to identify strategies to address those concerns. We can also, at your request, serve as a neutral, third party in resolving issues.
How do you insure confidentiality and anonymity?
Our work with you is strictly off the record unless you specifically ask us to contact persons for additional assistance. We do, however, provide periodic reports to the University administration about problematic trends on campus that warrant further study. In these circumstances, only a statistical representation of the issues is reported. The Ombuds Office holds the identity and all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence, and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so, except as required by law or where, in the judgment of the Ombuds, there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm.
Will the Ombuds serve as my advocate?
No. Student Ombuds Services advocates for “due process” rather than individuals or groups in accordance with professional ethics and standards of practice prescribed by The International Ombudsman Association. A benefit of this approach is that we might discover, or help you discover, a useful alternative perspective that might otherwise have been missed. In some circumstances, if you request it, and the other party agrees, and S.O.S. considers it to be appropriate, we can take part, as a third party, in conversations to insure that the interchange is as effective as possible and will facilitate a mutually acceptable solution.
Can an Ombuds give me legal advice?
No. The Ombuds is not a legal expert. An Ombuds will assist you with exploring your concerns, identifying, accessing and clarifying relevant university policies and procedures, and generating solutions and/or options. If you have legal questions or need a legal opinion, you should consult with NC State Student Legal Services or with your own attorney. It is important to let the Ombuds know if you are working with an attorney.
Can I use Student Ombuds Services to document my concern or place an issue on the record?
No. Student Ombuds Services is a confidential and informal office. Speaking with an Ombuds or sending communication to an Ombuds does not constitute notice to the university. The Ombuds does not create or retain records or identifiable documents. The Ombuds will not provide testimony in any formal process, unless otherwise ordered by a court of law.
How can Student Ombuds Services contribute to NC State?
- “humanize” what can feel like a large, complex institution by providing students with safe and informal opportunities to be heard; assistance in identifying options for managing or resolving concerns; facilitation of communication between or among conflicting parties; conflict resolution skills training.
- help the campus reduce costs related to conflict by resolving disputes informally and helping to avoid the waste of resources, time and energy of parties in formal grievance processes and litigation.
- provide upward feedback to NC State administrators about trends in conflicts, hot-button issues or other matters important to improving the overall climate and specific functioning of the campus; this can help keep top management abreast of new and changing trends within the NC State campus community.
- refer individuals toward appropriate formal processes and resources within the organization, so that students can be increasingly aware and know how to utilize NC State’s many supports effectively; this will typically enable students to complete their academic programs more efficiently.
What does “confidential” mean?
Confidential means that your contact with Student Ombuds Services or an ombuds, and the content of your conversations, will not be disclosed to any other party without your consent and the consent of the Ombuds. We assert that confidentiality is the privilege of the Ombuds and cannot be waived by any party without the consent of the Ombuds.
There are limits to confidentiality. Confidentiality may not be maintained in the event that an Ombuds is told about the intent of an individual to harm him/herself or another person, and as otherwise required by law.
Please note: Electronic mail should not be used to communicate confidential or sensitive information.
What does “impartial” mean?
Impartial means that the Ombuds does not favor any side, position, or person in a misunderstanding or dispute. An Ombuds does not act, advise, represent or advocate on behalf of any party. An Ombuds is an advocate of justice and seeks fairness while working within existing policies and procedures. If an Ombuds feels that they cannot be impartial or may not be perceived as impartial in any situation, the Ombuds may decided to be recused from further participation.
What does “informal” mean?
Informal means that your concerns will be addressed “off the record” and not through official channels or procedures. This allows you to freely explore your concerns and consider options privately. It supports the practice of collaborative problem solving.
For many problems, the informal approach of working with an Ombuds is highly effective and leads to satisfying outcomes. However, should you decide your concern warrants a different approach, all formal procedures ordinarily available to you remain available.
Note: Contacting Student Ombuds Services does not constitute notice to the university. Time requirements for filing formal complaints remain in effect.
Who should I contact for absence verification questions?
The faculty member of the course you have questions about should be your first point of contact for absence verification questions. For additional information, visit dasa.ncsu.edu/students/absence-verification-process.