What is an Ombuds?
An ombudsperson is an independent, neutral third party who assists in resolving problems and concerns by offering informal and confidential exploration of options. Many campuses, state agencies, and corporations have Ombuds offices. The word Ombudsman (om – buds – man), or Ombudsperson, comes from Sweden during the 19th century, where the term applied to a public official appointed to investigate citizens’ complaints against government agencies and act as an “ear to the people.” The purpose of the Office of the Student Ombuds at the UT-Austin is to assure that every voice in complex institutional systems can be heard and that every problem can receive an impartial review. Our office strives to uphold the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice as appropriate.
Who can use the services of the Office of the Student Ombuds?
The Office of the Student Ombuds primarily serves currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students. We can also assist faculty, staff, alumni, previously enrolled students and parents with questions about student-related concerns.
Why go to the Office of the Student Ombuds?
- You would like to talk confidentially about a situation
- You need help communicating with someone with the University
- You are unsure of the policies or procedures that apply to your specific problem or issue
- You would like to know what resources or options are available
- You want information about how to file a complaint, appeal, or grievance
- You feel a policy or procedure is not being followed properly
- You are not sure where else to turn for help
What We Can Do
- Listen to concerns, problems, and dispute
- Provide referrals
- Explain relevant policies and procedures
- Facilitate communication or dialogue
- Help with bureaucracy
- Review options and explore solutions
- Recommend changes to university policy and procedures to University officials.
- Report trends back to the University
- Aid in developing communication skills
- Provide other conflict resolution services
What We Cannot Do
- Take sides or determine outcomes for a case
- Participate in legal procedures or formal processes
- Conduct investigations
- Accept formal grievances
- Make decisions or mandate changes to policy
- Tell people what they should do
What should I expect in a meeting? Do I need to bring anything?
All meetings are scheduled for an hour, whether you end up requiring the full amount of time or not. An OSO staff member will spend a brief amount of time explaining their role then you are free to talk about your presenting concern(s). After you have finished discussing the situation, the staff member will begin working with you to generate possible options, informing you of relevant polices/procedures, and making necessary referrals. You do not need to bring anything, but if you have documents (syllabus for the course, email exchanges, etc.) that you think are pertinent to your concern, you are welcome to bring them. We will return those documents back to you at the end of the meeting since the OSO does not keep records.
What does “confidential” really mean?
Confidentiality within the OSO means that you are free to discuss concerns related to classes, professors, other students, other administrators, departments, etc. without that information leaving the office. However, there are legal exceptions and University policies that occasionally require OSO staff members to break confidentiality. These primarily entail imminent risk of harm to yourself, others, or a perceived threat to the University. OSO staff members will make every effort to inform you if your case is likely to require a breach of confidentiality. With that being said, rarely does the OSO need to break the confidentiality of a student.
Are you a student advocate?
No; the OSO does not take sides. Because one of the OSO’s core operating principles is neutrality, OSO staff members are not student advocates. However, staff members are also not advocates for the University or any other related party. OSO staff members work to evaluate an issue from all sides and to explore solutions in an impartial manner in effort to find a satisfactory resolution to the concern.