What is an Ombudsman?
An ombudsman is an independent, neutral third party who assists faculty, staff and administrators in resolving problems, concerns and complaints confidentially through informal means: counseling, negotiation, and mediation. At the Mississippi State University Ombuds Office, we are a confidential resource for the MSU community, available by phone or for office visits on the Starkville campus.
How does the confidentiality work?
Conversations with our office are considered confidential. However, confidentiality cannot be promised if there is imminent risk of serious harm, threats to public safety, or if compelled by a court of law. Work with the Ombuds is both voluntary and confidential as it is guided by the principles of the International Ombudsman Association. Therefore in working with the Ombudsman, you agree that you won’t call on the Ombuds to testify regarding the confidential communications.
Will you do anything without my permission?
Except in extraordinary situations—specifically, the two exceptions to confidentiality described above-- the Ombuds will never do anything without your permission. You will decide how to address your issues and how you want the Ombudsman to assist.
How is the Ombuds Office different from other offices on campus that address community member concerns?
Our process is informal and initiated by the visitors to the office. We emphasize developing strategies you can use before you decide it’s necessary to use one of MSU's formal administrative processes. The Ombuds does not make administrative decisions and does not have authority to change disciplinary actions. If you aren’t sure where to take your concern, the Ombuds is a safe place to start. Working with us is off the record, which sometimes makes talking about problems less intimidating.
How does the Ombuds remain neutral?
The Ombuds Office operates under the Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsman Association. Impartiality is one of the key ethical principles for an Ombudsman. Impartiality, or neutrality, means that visitors to our office can expect that they will be treated even-handedly, and that we are not advocates for the individual or for the University. The goal is to be fair and objective as advocates for fair processes and civility.
While the Ombuds Office is a University department that reports to the University President and the Provost and Executive Vice President, the Office's description in its Office Charter allows the Ombudsman to remain free from University interference when working to resolve your concern. We do not report information gained from individual visitors to the President or others, though we do discuss trends observed on campus (while being careful to protect confidentiality).
What Concerns Are Brought by Staff/Administrative Visitors?
Staff members are welcome to discuss issues relating to performance evaluations; dismissal and resignation; promotion and salary; conflict with colleagues and supervisors; perceived discrimination and harassment; work-life balance, ethical dilemmas, and other concerns.
What Concerns Are Brought by Faculty Visitors?
Faculty members have sought assistance with issues relating to appointments and hiring; housing; research/ownership of data; academic dishonesty; conflict with a student or post-doc; course assignments; departmental politics; conflicts with a colleague; disability issues; Faculty Handbook; harassment; discrimination; promotion and compensation; and other concerns.
What should I expect when I visit the Ombuds Office?
All meetings are scheduled for an hour or hour and a half, whether you end up requiring the full amount of time or not. An ombuds office staff member will spend a brief amount of time explaining their role then you are free to talk about your presenting concern(s). The ombuds will: provide a comfortable, confidential environment to air your problems, concerns or complaints; listen to your problem, concern or complaint; explore options for resolving your problem, concern or complaint; provide answers to questions you have regarding a policy or procedure. You do not need to bring anything, but if you have documents (email exchanges, course documents, letters of discipline, performance evaluations, 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 Ombuds Office does not keep records. When, or whether, you return to the office is entirely up to you.
Can the Ombuds Office give me legal advice?
The Ombuds Office will advise you of your rights within Mississippi State University’s structure but does not provide legal advice. The Ombuds will not testify in any formal judicial or administrative hearing about concerns brought to their attention.
When should I contact the Ombuds Office?
Sooner is better than later. While no concern or conflict is too little or too big for us to help you with, the sooner you reach out for assistance with your problem, the more options you'll have to resolve it effectively. You can talk with us in confidence about any concern related to Mississippi State University. Contact us if:
- You would like to talk confidentially about an issue or situation
- You need help communicating with someone within 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 need an objective perspective on a problem
- You want information about how to file a formal complaint, appeal, or grievance
- You feel a policy or procedure is not being followed properly
- You feel that you have been unfairly or inequitably treated
- You are not sure where else to turn for help
What kind of records do you keep?
As a matter of policy, the Ombuds Office destroys all information regarding a particular matter when that matter is resolved or within one month of no activity. The Ombuds Office does not retain any information that would identify the individuals involved in a conflict, dispute or complaint. We do keep some statistical data about the categories of concerns visitors discuss, as well as some general demographic data which is aggregated.
What Are the Ombuds Officer’s Qualifications?
The Ombudsman is an Asociate member of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and conforms to its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. The Ombudsman participates in the IOA Organizational Ombudsman training programs, remains proficient in dealing with common matters found on university campuses, and is constantly vigilant to emerging issues relevant to the University community.