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Ombudsperson FAQ

Office of Ombuds Services Operations in relation to COVID-19

The Ombudsperson will continue to meet with graduate students, staff, faculty, and university leaders who are working from locations other than UT and UTIA through Zoom or on the phone for the duration that our institution is responding to COVID-19. Please do not hesitate to contact for a meeting.

Find Coronavirus Update at: www.utk.edu/coronavirus/

What does the word ombuds mean?
Ombuds comes from a Swedish word and means “representative.”

What is a university ombudsperson?

The university ombudsperson serves as a consultant to faculty, staff, and graduate students who visit the office and provides a safe space for seeking information and insights. Following the International Ombudsman Association code of ethics and standards of practice, the ombudsperson is independent, impartial, confidential, and informal and will help visitors make empowered decisions related to organizational discomfort, disputes, conflicts, and barriers that stand in the way of reaching their full potential. They promote fair practices, respect between parties, effective communication, cooperation, equity, and civility in academic and work environments. They do not give formal opinions, do not serve as advocates for any person, and do not decide what the outcome of a dispute should be. Ombudspersons strive to treat people with respect and work to protect fairness for all.

What services does the ombudsperson provide?

Private, Confidential Consultation
Faculty, staff, and graduate students who visit the office can safely express any issues and their feelings about these issues. The ombudsperson will listen actively, facilitate reflective thinking, clarify facts and assumptions, and assist the visitor in exploring options for addressing their concerns.

Problem Solving
The majority of visitors to the Office of Ombuds Services come see the ombudsperson to engage in a productive problem solving activity about a situation at hand. These problems do not have to be specifically related to a conflict, crisis, or anything with urgency. Many visitors come see the ombudsperson to work out a situation where the problem may be unclear, but there is something about it that makes them feel stuck. Therefore, the ombudsperson helps visitors identify and articulate a potential problem, examine both resources and constraints related to a potential problem, and strategize how to tackle a problem including the visitor’s choice not to do anything about it. The ombudsperson’s goal is for visitors to engage in problem solving and come to an empowered decision.

Mediation
The ombudsperson may facilitate an informal process that assists visitors in resolving their concerns in a mutually acceptable way. This can be achieved through a mediation process where parties are in the same space to engage in a conversation with mutually agreed upon goals and ground rules set by the ombudsperson, or through a shuttle diplomacy process where the ombudsperson can talk to each party separately conveying their wishes and coming to an agreement without being in the same space.

Executive and Leadership Coaching
The ombudsperson works with organizational leaders to help them engage in problem solving and act as a sounding board for designing solutions to practical problems.

Upward Organizational Feedback
The ombudsperson serves as a catalyst for constructive organizational change by identifying and reporting emerging trends and issues and providing upward feedback to university officials. While individual issues are not reported back, when common themes emerge over time the ombudsperson provides that information to officials.

How do I seek the services of the ombudsperson?

Faculty, staff, and graduate students seeking ombuds services can call 865-974-6273. If there is no answer, you can leave a message with your name and contact information. Voice messages are confidential, but you don’t need to specify an issue. You can also email the ombudsperson at LisaYL@utk.edu, but email messages are not confidential.

How are consultations arranged?

Some issues can be handled with a single phone call. If a consultation is required, it can be held face to face, by videoconference, or over the phone, depending on the visitor’s preference. This first meeting is typically an active listening session. Visitors can choose to schedule a follow-up consultation to identify strategies for addressing the issues that have been discussed.

Is information shared with the ombudsperson confidential?

The office is a confidential and off-the-record resource for visitors. The only exceptions occur when a visitor grants permission to disclose information, when there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm, and when disclosure is required by university policy or by law.

The ombudsperson does not keep detailed visitor records, and reporting is handled in a way that protects visitor confidentiality. Unless required by university policy or by law, the office does not participate in formal processes within or outside the university, even with permission of the visitor.

How does the university benefit from the ombudsperson’s work?

The university ombudsperson prepares an annual report with trends and recommendations that is submitted to the chancellor and made available to the UT community. The report meets the ombuds’s responsibility for providing upward feedback and serves as part of a long-range strategy to facilitate better working relations and enhance the experience of the university as a community.