What does an Ombudsman do?
The ombudsman is authorized by the president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to confidentially receive complaints or inquiries about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, or broader systemic problems within the WPI community. The WPI Ombuds Office provides confidential, impartial, independent, and informal problem-solving assistance to students, faculty, and staff. It also provides assistance with complaints involving interpersonal, academic, and administrative misunderstandings or disputes and works to help individuals resolve their concerns fairly.
The ombudsman first listens carefully and uncritically to develop a good understanding of the individual's (or in ombuds jargon, the visitor's) concerns and the circumstances involved. The ombudsman then helps the visitor identify and clarify the issues involved and define the goals to be achieved. The ombudsman may help the visitor better understand the scope of the problem, or identify and evaluate alternatives and options. The ombudsman may refer the visitor to other individuals at WPI who are better able to address his/her concerns.
How does the ombuds office help resolve issues?
In addition to meeting directly with the visitor, the ombudsman can provide support in a number of different ways. For example, with the visitor's permission, the ombudsman can act as an informal fact-finder, meet with the other parties involved in a dispute, or facilitate joint meetings in order to resolve conflicts. The ombudsman can provide other forms of mediation (e.g., "shuttle diplomacy") and follow-up. The ombudsman can help the visitor develop the skills and build the confidence needed to deal with problems in the future. It is also the function of the WPI Ombuds Office to bring troublesome trends to the attention of WPI administrators in a manner that protects the confidentiality of any visitor to the WPI Ombuds Office.
To achieve maximum independence, the WPI Ombuds Office reports only to the president of WPI, and then only for administrative and budgetary purposes. No names or specific grievances are discussed, and absolute confidentiality is maintained. The WPI Ombuds Office operates outside the ordinary line management structure of WPI. Since it has no formal decision-making authority, bringing a complaint to the Ombuds Office does not constitute serving legal notice to WPI.
Is the WPI ombuds office a place to make an official report or file an official complaint?
All communications made to an ombudsman are off the record. It is important to understand that speaking with the WPI Ombuds Office does not constitute formal notice to WPI and will not preserve a visitor's legal rights.
Topics you can discuss with us could include...
Conflicts of interest
Incivility or rudeness
Health and safety concerns
Protecting your reputation
Suggestions for improvement
Concerns about compensation, benefits
Concerns about harassment, discrimination, abuse of power
Violations of WPI policy
Performance appraisal, disciplinary actions
Appropriate ways to frame and discuss issues
Ways to make or accept an apology
Threats or retaliation
Grades, academic credit, intellectual property disputes
The WPI Ombuds Office deals with an enormous variety of issues; if yours does not fit into the examples listed above, do not let that stop you from coming to see us.
The WPI Ombuds Office is guided by principles upheld by the International Ombudsman Association.
The WPI ombudsman operates confidentially and does not disclose the names of any individuals who used the WPI Ombuds Office. The WPI Ombuds Office safeguards the identity of individuals and their issues, and does not disclose the identity or the concern without permission from the individual using the ombuds service. Any notes or documentation compiled during the course of a confidential meeting are destroyed once the service is completed.
In matters that become formal grievances or legal actions, the ombudsman will not testify for or against an individual who has used the WPI Ombuds Office.
Limits of Confidentiality
The ombudsman cannot guarantee confidentiality under the following conditions:
A crime is witnessed
There appears to be imminent risk of serious harm
The WPI Ombuds Office is independent in structure and function within the organization. It reports to the president of WPI, and then only for administrative and budgetary purposes. The WPI Ombuds Office operates outside the ordinary line management structure of WPI.
Because of its unique informal problem-solving role, speaking with the WPI Ombuds Office about a concern does NOT constitute legal notice to WPI about a problem. Anyone wishing to put the Institution on notice may contact an administrator or invoke formal grievance procedures. The ombudsman can provide contact information for this purpose.
Using the WPI Ombuds Office does not prevent any individual from using existing administrative or formal grievance procedures.
The ombudsman functions on an informal basis by listening, providing and receiving information, reframing issues, and developing options. With permission of the visitor, the ombudsman may provide referrals, mediation, and informal fact finding.
The ombudsman does not take an active role in any formal institutional investigative or adjudicative procedures. The WPI Ombuds Office may informally investigate alleged procedural irregularities or a formal process and allegations about acts, omissions, improprieties, or broader systems problems.
Use of the ombudsman is not a required step in any grievance process.
The WPI Ombuds Office is neutral, impartial, unaligned, and objective.
The ombudsman has no personal interest or stake and incurs no personal gain or loss from the outcome of an issue. The ombudsman is an advocate for good and fair process, not an advocate on behalf of individuals. The ombudsman acts in consideration of and with respect for the legitimate interests and concerns of all affected parties.
The ombudsman will recommend and advocate for responsible and appropriate systems change within the WPI community, and will bring to the attention of the appropriate parties any policies, programs, personnel matters, or institutional practices or decisions that affect an individual's health, safety, or rights.