National Academies of Sciences – Engineering – Medicine Supports Ombuds


The National Academies Press recently published a Consensus Study Report titled “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” This report from the Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia provides a comprehensive view on this challenging topic and also references and supports the role of ombuds offices.

The support focuses on the confidentiality of the ombuds office and on how it connects with the organization, i.e., set up outside normal structures.  “Reporting channels outside of the usual workplace hierarchy, such as an ombudsperson, who can receive reports of harassment but are not officially part of the Human Resources or management response to reports of harassment, can provide critical independent support to persons experiencing harassment.” (p 140) Further, the report highlighted  that “‘having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent'” (quoting from Not Alone – The first Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, Office of the President of the United States, April 2014).

The report also concludes that “academic ombuds offices are one of the few places on campus that students [and others] can go to confidentially report an incident.”  Thus, the organizational ombuds office can serve a critical role in supporting all members of a community impacted by harassment concerns. And, because the ombuds role is impartial, the ombuds can support and assist all persons involved.

Not sure where to go for help, Go Ombuds!

Decision Making – Take the whistle out of the ref’s mouth !

With the soccer World Cup starting in a few days (I’m a fan) and with the US not in action, I’ve been giving some thought to the larger context of the situation. I played soccer in high school, college, and beyond and have also served as a referee. And, as I think about the larger context of the Cup, I’ve also been giving a good deal of thought to some of the issues that are coming my way and how to place them within a larger context.

I’ve now had several faculty and staff members bring issues to me as a result of actions and decisions made that impact them, but, from their perspective, were decided upon without their input or a full awareness of the situation.  Visitors to the ombuds office claim that there was no effort to contact them, to get “their side of the story,” before a decision was made.  Or, I hear – “why wasn’t I consulted about that issue? I think I could have helped fashion a better result!”

In these situations, the overarching concern seems to be that decision-makers are acting too quickly or acting with only one “side” of the situation and without complete information. Of course, I don’t really know if the visitor perception is accurate (I typically only hear from one perspective); however, this idea of acting fast or first and then asking questions later, is something to consider.  How can decision makers determine that complete and accurate information is on hand? That all perspectives have been considered?

Let’s borrow an idea from the soccer referee – take the “decision making” whistle out of your mouth and put it in your hand!

The whistle in the hand is how soccer referees work (I’m a certified ref). The idea is that as ref you see “something” and the split second or two from the seeing, to bringing the whistle to your mouth, gives the ref that instant to think about the situation. Was there really a foul or, even if there was a foul, does the team with the ball have an advantage and instead of blowing the whistle and stopping play, I should let the play continue shouting – play on! This is quite different from basketball, football, and other refs who officiate with the whistle in their mouth. They don’t have time for consideration. They have to blow first with no questions asked later (except for certain replay aspects that now exist).  I think people making quick decisions or decisions without various information inputs is like having the whistle in your mouth. No time for thinking.

Instead, give yourself a moment to reflect on the situation from all points of view. Create an opportunity to pause, to make sure information, all or enough, is on hand or identify and ask additional questions.  Maybe even reach out to multiple individuals impacted by the situation, get their input, and then make a decision.  Take a step back and think about the situation from all possible perspectives. Is each one covered in some manner?  If not, don’t blow your whistle, hold off on making your decision, and give yourself the time to make a fully informed one.

Now let’s see what happens at the World Cup! Let’s all hope the referees make good calls!!!