WCU Faculty Ombuds Charter
This Charter Agreement is based on the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice developed by the International Ombudsperson Association (https://www.ombudsassociation.org/standards-of-practice-code-of-ethics).
The WCU Faculty Ombuds Office should be considered an “office of first resort” when considering whether to report an issue through formal campus policy channels. The primary function of the Faculty Ombudsperson is to provide trustworthy and informal assistance to the university’s faculty in sorting through issues and concerns that occur in the workplace. The Faculty Ombudsperson abides by the four fundamental principles defining ombuds practice: confidentiality (which applies to all faculty issues, excluding sexual harassment and sexual assault, per PASSHE legal counsel’s interpretation of Title VII and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act), independence, neutrality, and informality. The Ombuds Office acts with the awareness of faculty advocacy groups, in particular the faculty bargaining unit, APSCUF.
Note: the Ombudsperson is available to discuss issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault, disclosures of threats of imminent harm, or child abuse; however, these discussions will not be considered confidential and must be reported to the WCU Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Also note that while the Ombudsperson may give feedback to APSCUF, there are designated channels within APSCUF for recommending policy changes that impact the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) or APSCUF-Management local agreements.
I. The Mission
The goal of the Faculty Ombuds Office is to provide a free, confidential space for faculty to bring issues and concerns, to be heard, and to receive assistance in strategizing and exploring options. The work of the Ombudsperson is three fold: 1) listening; 2) strategizing, exploring options, and information gathering; and 3) aggregating and anonymizing information, identifying patterns over time, and where appropriate, recommending policy or procedure change. Such data aggregation will be done while maintaining confidentiality. Recommendations to the WCU administration shall be brought to the faculty union (APSCUF) “Meet & Discuss” on an annual basis or more frequently as needed. Recommendations to WCU Management may also be formed in collaboration with APSCUF.
The duty of the Ombuds Office is to encourage an ethical and civil climate throughout the university, but particularly between faculty members and with faculty and other university personnel, by creating the space and opportunity for resolving difficulties informally, unpacking misunderstandings through dialogue, problem-solving where appropriate, and just being a place to be heard when that is what is needed.
The Faculty Ombuds Office serves a variety of functions:
- a place where faculty can come for airing and clarifying concerns, discussing problems and developing solutions;
- a source for referrals to other offices;
- data and perspective gathering in the service of identifying and resolving concerning patterns and other issues;
- coaching help in solving problems for oneself;
- shuttle diplomacy (working among parties) when appropriate and acceptable to all parties;
- a safe place for facilitating group conversations;
- and other functions consistent with the mission of the office.
The Faculty Ombudsperson will reveal circumstances and identities only with permission of the faculty member who initiates contact with the Ombuds Office (hereafter referred to as the Visitor), except when the safety or security of others are concerned or in matters of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Faculty Ombudsperson may be asked by Management or by the parties to take actions that would reveal identities and will do so only when the Visitor has given permission, and it is deemed appropriate. The Ombudsperson may be asked by the Visitor to take no action at all. There may be any number of actions that need to be taken in the service of a resolution of a problem, but these will fall under the label of informal actions, meaning they will not be actions related to discipline and not memorialized in writing in any file held by a manager. Any such formal actions must be handled according to the processes set forth in the APSCUF CBA. (Note that APSCUF also may act informally on the behalf of faculty.)
II. Code of Ethics and Core Values
The Faculty Ombudsperson will operate according to the Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics laid out by the International Ombuds Association: https://www.ombudsassociation.org/standards-of-practice-code-of-ethics, and will provide annual anonymized reports at APSCUF Meet & Discuss which will contain recommendations for policy and system change where patterns have been identified.
III. Non-interference in Matters Governed by the APSCUF CBA
The Faculty Ombudsperson will not interfere in or to make decisions related to contract implementation as mandated by the APSCUF CBA, or as mandated by other WCU bargaining unit CBAs. This includes but is not limited to:
- Engaging in “individual bargaining” on behalf of faculty related to working conditions, pay, etc.
- Involvement in potential grievance work that should be handled by APSCUF
- Discouragement of faculty members’ right to request APSCUF representation in matters of discipline, as guaranteed under the APSCUF CBA
- Assigning an APSCUF representative, informally known as "APSCUF reps"
IV. The Principles
- The Ombuds Office and the Ombudsperson are independent from other WCU organizational entities.
- There will be no interference, or appearance of interference, from university constituencies in the performance of the duties of the office (except as noted in Section I).
- The Ombudsperson functions separately from any existing administrative structures.
- The Ombudsperson has sole discretion over whether and how to act regarding Visitors’ concerns, i.e., the Visitor should not expect the Ombudsperson will take any particular action or assure any particular outcome. The Ombudsperson may initiate action on a concern identified through their direct observation, while maintaining confidentiality as requested, excepting the restrictions under Section I. above.
- This independence is assured through the official recognition by WCU of the Ombuds Office and this Charter, reporting structure, and commitment to neutrality.
- Neutrality and Impartiality
- The Ombudsperson, as a designated neutral, remains unaligned and impartial. They don’t take sides and don’t make value judgments. They strive for fairness and objectivity in their dealings with Visitors and consideration of issues.
- To the extent possibly, they do not engage in any situation which could create a conflict of interest.
- Because this is a part-time position, and the Ombudsperson will play other roles in the university, an alternate Ombudsperson is always available.
- The Ombudsperson does not advocate on behalf of any individual at WCU.
- The Ombudsperson operates independent of ordinary line and staff structures.
- The Ombudsperson does not report to and is not structurally affiliated with any compliance function at WCU.
- The Ombudsperson will have no personal interest or stake in, and incur no gain or loss from, the outcome of an issue.
- The Ombudsperson has a responsibility to consider the legitimate concerns and interests of all individuals affected by the matter under consideration.
- The Ombudsperson helps develop a range of responsible options to resolve problems and facilitate discussion to identify the best options.
- The Ombudsperson holds all communications with Visitors in strict confidence, and does not disclose confidential communications unless given permission to do so, except as noted in the Preamble.
- The Ombudsperson does not reveal, and must not be required to reveal, the identity of any Visitor (except as defined in Section IV.3.a.), nor does the Ombudsperson reveal information given in the course of informal discussions with the Ombudsperson that could lead to the identification of any Visitor, without the Visitor’s and all involved individuals’ express permission.
- The Ombudsperson takes specific action related to a Visitor’s issue only with their express permission and only to the extent they permit, and even then at the discretion of the Ombudsperson who will determine whther the action can be taken in a way that safeguards the identity of the Visitor.
- Communications between the Ombudsperson and others (made while the Ombudsperson is serving in that capacity) are considered privileged. The privilege belongs to the Ombudsperson and the Ombuds Office, rather than to any party to an issue. Others cannot vacate this privilege.
- The Ombudsperson does not testify in any formal process at WCU and resists testifying in any formal process outside WCU regarding a Visitor’s contact with the Ombudsperson or confidential information communicated to the Ombudsperson, even if given permission or requested to do so. The Ombudsperson may, however, provide general, non-confidential information about the Ombuds Office or the Ombuds role. The presumption of the Ombuds Office is that Visitors agree not to call the ombudsperson as a witness in any future legal proceedings regarding the issues being brought to that office.
- If the Ombudsperson provides feedback to Management on University-wide trends, issues, policies and practices, the Ombudsperson does so in a way that safeguards the identity of all involved individuals.
- The Ombudsperson keeps no records containing identifying information, even at the request of WCU Management.
- The Ombudsperson maintains information (e.g., notes, phone messages, appointment calendars) in a secure location and manner, protected from inspection by others (including Management), and has a consistent and standard practice for the destruction of such information.
- Communications made to the Ombudsperson are not “notice” to WCU Management. The Ombudsperson neither acts as agent for, nor accepts notice on behalf of, Management. However, the Ombudsperson may refer Visitors to the appropriate WCU office where formal notice can be made.
- The Ombuds Office, as an informal resource, does not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to their attention.
- The Ombudsperson functions on an informal basis by such means as: listening, providing and receiving information, identifying and reframing issues, developing a range of responsible options, and—with permission and at Ombudsperson discretion—engaging in informal third-party intervention. When possible, the Ombudsperson helps people develop new ways to solve problems themselves.
- The Ombudsperson, as an informal and off-the-record resource, pursues resolution of concerns and looks into procedural irregularities and broader systemic problems when appropriate.
- The Ombudsperson does not make binding decisions, mandate policies, or formally adjudicate issues for WCU Management, WCU APSCUF, or any individual.
- The Ombudsperson supplements where appropriate, but does not replace, any formal channels. Use of the Ombuds Office is voluntary, and is not a required step in any formal process or policy. The Ombuds Office has no contractual recognition, and is not a recognized part of any contractual process governed by the CBA outside of the organs and processes of shared governance (see above, section I).
- When a formal investigation, complaint, or other process is requested, the Ombudsperson must refrain from acting unilaterally and will refer Visitors to the appropriate Management offices or to APSCUF (See section I above).
- The Ombudsperson identifies trends, issues and concerns about policies and procedures, including potential future issues and concerns, without breaching confidentiality or anonymity, and provides recommendations for responsibly addressing them.
- The Ombudsperson acts in accordance with the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, keeps professionally current by pursuing continuing education, and provides opportunities for staff to pursue professional training.
- The Ombudsperson endeavors to be worthy of the trust placed in the Ombuds Office.