Ombuds Office Charter

The Ombuds Office of Gettysburg College provides support in helping all categories of employees and faculty, referred to hereafter as “visitors,” resolve workplace issues.

The Ombuds Office serves as a resource that is confidential, independent, neutral, and informal. The Gettysburg College Ombuds is a trained Organizational Ombudsman Practitioner and a member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) practicing in accordance with the IOA Code of Ethics and IOA Standards of Practice.

Opened in spring 2019, the Office is presently staffed on a part-time basis by Kathryn Rhett.

The primary purpose of the Ombuds Office is to provide a confidential resource for visitors to which they can bring their workplace concerns and questions, and can get assistance in problem-solving and considering their best options for handling a difficult situation. The Ombuds Office is an alternative to formal channels of dispute resolution. The Office also provides information to College leadership on general trends and patterns of complaints without breaching confidentiality so that problems may be prevented from escalating or recurring.

The Ombuds performs a variety of functions in carrying out their duties and responsibilities. These duties and responsibilities include: providing a respectful and confidential place within the College for individuals to discuss problems off the record, including helping them to clarify their issues, identify their goals and develop and consider a range of options; coaching visitors in written and verbal communications; explaining relevant College policies and procedures; providing referrals to other offices/services; looking into problems by gathering data and the perspectives of others; engaging in shuttle diplomacy; facilitating one-on-one and group conversations; and other measures consistent with the mission of the Office.

The Ombuds will support self-determination of its visitors in assisting them in reaching resolutions of their choosing that are consistent with the ideals and objectives of the College. The Office is empowered to provide informal assistance only. Formal actions are managed by other Gettysburg College offices or officials. The Office supplements, and does not replace, the College’s procedures for redress of claims of harassment, discrimination, or misconduct or the College’s other resources for support or conflict resolution. Campus community members are specifically reminded of the services available through the Employee Assistance Program, Department of Public Safety, Title IX Director, Victim Services Advocate, Pastoral Counseling, Human Resources, and Provost’s Office.

To preserve independence and neutrality, the Ombuds reports directly to the President of the College. The Ombuds will maintain a log of cases brought to the office, using IOA 2 reporting categories. The identity of the visitor will always be protected. The Ombuds will make a report to the President annually or semi-annually, including this anonymous, aggregate data.

The Ombuds will not accept legal notice on behalf of the College, and information provided to the Ombuds will not constitute such notice to the College.

Standards of Practice

The Ombuds Office operates according to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA). The Ombuds Office has four essential characteristics: confidential, independent, neutral, and informal.

Every visitor to the office is advised of the standards by which the Office of the Ombuds operates, and these standards inform the specific procedures to which the office adheres.

Confidential

  • Strict confidentiality is essential to the Ombuds function and helps create a safe place for visitors to voice concerns, evaluate issues, and identify options.
  • The Ombuds does not disclose the identity of visitors to the office or the content of conversations unless, in the course of the confidential communications, permission has been given to do so.
  • The Ombuds may assert a confidentiality privilege but any such privilege belongs to the Ombuds office and cannot be waived by visitors to the office. Thus, even with the permission of the complainant, the Ombuds will not disclose documents, or testify, attend, or participate in formal proceedings with respect to confidential communications.
  • A visitor’s communications to the Ombuds are considered confidential. The Ombuds is not a substitute for any lawyer, representative or counselor. Thus, consistent with the International Ombuds Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, conversations with the Ombuds do not constitute notice to College of any claims a visitor may have.
  • Gettysburg College will make every effort to protect the confidentiality of the Office. The College will not ask the Ombuds to testify on the College’s behalf in internal or external proceedings with respect to confidential communications, and will cooperate with the Ombuds in resisting efforts to compel the Ombuds to disclose confidential communications.
  • There are limited exceptions to confidentiality—where the Ombuds determines there is an imminent risk of serious harm, or where the Ombuds is required to provide information pursuant to court order or other legal process.

Independent

  • The Office functions independently and outside of existing administrative structures but for administrative and budgetary purposes reports directly to the President of the College.
  • The Ombuds Office is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible within the organization. In order to fulfill its function, the Ombuds oversees an allocated budget to operate the Ombuds Office. The College provides adequate staffing and office space that is accessible, welcoming, comfortable, and located in a place that offers visitors a high degree of privacy and safety.
  • The Ombuds exercises total discretion regarding their responsibilities. The Ombuds neither compels other offices to take specific action nor receives compulsory orders about how to approach a particular issue.
  • The Ombuds has access to College officials and records as needed to carry out the functions of the Office, except as otherwise restricted by law.

Neutral

  • The Ombuds Office is neutral. Serving as a designated neutral, the Ombuds is not an advocate for any individual or for the College, but rather acts as an advocate for fairness and healthy campus conflict resolution.
  • The Ombuds does not make decisions for visitors. The Ombuds’ role is to be an impartial third party who is available to assist with addressing a concern, or resolving an issue.
  • The Ombuds has no personal interest or stake in and incurs no personal gain or loss from the outcome of any disputes. The Ombuds avoids situations that may cause or result in conflicts of interest, either actual or perceived.

Informal

  • The Ombuds Office is an informal resource, operating outside of all formal processes. The Ombuds has no authority to make decisions on behalf of the institution, and provides only informal assistance.
  • Permanent records of the Ombuds Office include only anonymous, aggregate data. Formal records are not created, nor are personally identifiable documents preserved. Any informal notes are routinely destroyed.
  • The Ombuds is not part of and does not take part in any administrative or formal complaint processes. The Ombuds does not conduct formal investigations or participate in formal actions. The following are also outside the purview of the Office: adjudicating cases, acting as an advocate or witness in any case inside or outside the College; keeping case records for the College; assessing wrongdoing or innocence; determining sanctions; and making, changing, or setting aside any rule, policy, or administrative decision.
  • The Ombuds will not accept legal notice on behalf of the College, and information provided to the Ombuds, by any means, will not constitute such notice to the College. This includes allegations that may be perceived as violations of laws, regulations, or policies, or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act. The Ombuds is not a campus security authority, or CSA, as defined under the Clery Act and is not a “Responsible Employee” under Title IX.
  • The College has not authorized the Ombuds to receive notice of claims against the College on any matter, including reports of sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination. Visitors will be made aware that information related to those claims will not be reported to the College with the exception of threat of imminent serious physical harm. The Ombuds can provide information about available formal channels so that individuals may make informed choices about which process is best for them to pursue.

December 7, 2019